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Did Jesus die to ‘satisfy God’s wrath’?

Four years ago I commented on the well-known hymn (which you might have sung yesterday), ‘In Christ Alone’ by Stuart Townend. This had been prompted by the decision in the Presbyterian Church (USA) to drop the  hymn because the song’s authors refused to change a phrase about the wrath of God.

The original lyrics say that “on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” The Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song wanted to substitute the words, “the love of God was magnified.”

The song’s authors, Stuart Townend and Nashville resident Keith Getty, objected. So the committee voted to drop the song.

Critics say the proposed change was sparked by liberals wanting to take God’s wrath out of the hymnal. The committee says there’s plenty of wrath in the new hymnal. Instead, the problem is the word “satisfied,” which the committee says refers to a specific view of theology that it rejects.

In my experience, many Christians want to revise this phrase, and sing something different in practice. When I highlighted this on Facebook, I was taken aback by the intensity of discussion, which ended up with more than 100 comments. What is at stake in this particular phrase? There are three aspects: what the NT says about Jesus’ death; the status of particular doctrines; and the issue of copyright in hymns and songs.


51CAuxMGYLLOn the question of wrath in the NT, several things are worth bearing in mind. First, in the NT, whilst there is plenty of discussion about God’s wrath (or sometimes just ‘the wrath’) God is never described as being ‘angry’. Wrath is always a noun, and never a verb. Stephen Travis in Christ and the Judgement of God talks of it as an effectus not an affectus, an attitude rather than a feeling. I remember his former colleague Michael Green describing God’s wrath as ‘his settled opposition to all that is evil.’

Secondly, it is described as something both present (for example in Romans 1) and future (in Romans 5.9). In fact, Romans 5.9 is the only verse in the NT which links Jesus’ death with deliverance from wrath explicitly, and here Paul clearly has the final judgement in mind, not some transaction which takes place on the cross at the time of Jesus’ death.

Thirdly (for the sake of good Anglicans) it is important to note that the Book of Common Prayer does make use of the idea of satisfaction:

All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world…

But it is worth noting that the ‘satisfaction’ of honour is a mediaeval idea, originating with Anselm of Canterbury in the eleventh century, not one that is found in the NT in relation to Jesus’ death. In any case, the BCP does not talk of ‘satisfying God’s wrath’, and the emphasis here comes from its root in the Middle English satisfien, from Anglo-French satisfier, modification of Latin satisfacere, from satis ‘enough’ and facere ‘to do or make’ and thus means paid or discharged in full. Hence I am very happy to use the words of the BCP, but still not to sing the phrase in the Townend hymn.

The real danger in talking of Jesus satisfying God’s wrath is that we separate the actions of the Trinity in the cross. It appears to portray loving Jesus saving us from an angry God who metes out his punishment upon the innocent. Instead, we should see in the open arms of Jesus a welcome by a loving Father, who no longer counts our sin against us—it is from our sin and its consequences that Jesus saves us, rather than from a hateful God.


This moves us into the question of doctrine of the atonement. This is not the place to tackle this massive subject in full (!), but I noted in the FB discussion that the NT uses a whole range of metaphors for what happened on the cross—apart from the language of taking our place and bearing our sins (1 Peter), the cross and resurrection of Jesus dethroned the powers (Ephesians), ended our shame (Hebrews), brought us into friendship with God (2 Cor), recapitulated the story of Israel (Matthew and Acts), began the redemption of the whole creation (Romans 8), and started the recreation of humanity (Romans and 1 Cor). Tom Smail explores a whole range of images and ideas in his excellent Windows on the Cross which is a great resource for preaching. If we are going to engage our culture with the meaning of Jesus, we would do well to draw on the whole range of ways that Scripture uses.

However, in the FB discussion, one contributor commented:

I believe that the traditional language of the satisfaction of God’s wrath expresses the model at the very heart of the atonement and the Gospel…Further, if you don’t like the doctrine that the cross satisfied God’s wrath, don’t sing it, don’t call yourself a classical evangelical, and leave the COE. Since the BCP is part of the doctrine of the COE, to reject the BCP’s language about satisfaction is to reject the COE’s doctrine, and, for clergy, break their ordination vows. Further, Penal substitution has historically been a key belief for evangelicalism.

I began to see why so many comments were generated—if you don’t believe this phrase (even though it does not occur in the NT, is not found in the creeds, and does not in this form occur in the BCP) you are not really a proper Anglican, let alone an evangelical (though again the phrase is absent from both UCCF and CEEC bases of faith), so I suppose there is a question about whether you could call yourself a Christian at all! At one point, it sounded as though this correspondent was putting the doctrine of ‘penal substitution’ (that Jesus died in our place, being punished by God for our sins, and so satisfying God’s wrath) on the same level as belief in the Trinity, though in fact he pulled back from that in a later comment.

in-christ-aloneHere, as elsewhere, we have got ourselves into a very bad place of ‘culture wars’ in relation to doctrine, and on this (as well as eg the issue of women in leadership) it seems almost impossible to have a sensible discussion. More than that, for me it suggests a real problem in how we view doctrine. Is Scripture supposed to lead us to right doctrine, or does good doctrine help us to read the Scriptures? In my view, it is clearly the latter—it is Scripture that is ‘God-breathed’ (2 Tim 3.16) and not any doctrine textbook. This isn’t about saying truth is unimportant; it is saying that truth is not best expressed by a set of propositions alone. God did not make a mistake when he gave us the Scriptures, in all their variety and (apparent) contradictions. And our unity is not found in agreement on a particular statement of doctrine. It is found in the person of Jesus, crucified and risen, whom we proclaim as Lord. Our unity is, in fact, ‘in Christ alone.’


When Stephen Travis revised Christ and the Judgement of God, he included an additional chapter specifically responding to those proposing penal substitution as the main way to understand Jesus’ death. The chapter is a tour de force, a masterly exploration of the issue, fully engaging with alternative views, and is worth reading in full. He comments:

Most interpreters of Paul would agree with Howard Marshall, that ‘Paul’s vocabulary expresses the results of Christ’s death rather than its character, and this fits in with New Testament thought in general, which is more concerned with the nature of salvation than with the precise way in which it has been achieved.’ (p 181)

There is no place [in the OT] for the popular idea that in the sacrificial ritual God is somehow punishing the animal…or for the inference that something parallel to that is happening in the sacrificial death of Christ. (p 197)

Paul’s understanding of the death of Christ includes, but does not place at the centre, the idea that he bore the retributive punishment for our sins…To understand the atonement exclusively in those terms involves a misunderstanding of what Paul means by ‘the wrath of God.’ (p 199)

The meaning of the cross is not that God punished his Son in order to avoid punishing humanity, but that in Christ God himself took responsibility for the world’s evil and absorbed its consequences into itself. (p 200)

Finally comes the question of copyright. The Presbyterian Church were right to consult the hymn’s authors before changing the words in a published work. But what is copyright about? Principally two things: recognition of the author; and recompense for the work. It is not about hymn writers controlling our doctrine. In fact, if you read the words of the song, it is full of biblical language, and would be thought of as theologically conservative, even without this one phrase. There is plenty else here that I would hope the writers are pleased that people want to sing. So my recommendation would be to use it, to amend this one phrase, to credit the original writers, to note the amendment, and to pay up your royalty fee. Who knows? You might even end up provoking reflection on what Jesus’ death and resurrection (the NT holds the two together) actually mean for us.


I was particularly prompted to re-publish this discussion at Easter after reading a very good piece on The Gospel Coalition blog by Derek Rishmawy, who is currently undertaking a PhD on doctrine. I think Derek would want to staunchly defend the idea of ‘penal substitution’ as a way of understanding the significance of the death of Jesus, but he offers three important qualifications which match my concerns quite closely.

1. Don’t Break Up the Trinity

One common mistake is to speak as if the cross momentarily divided the Trinity. We sing rich hymns with lines like “the Father turned his face away” and mistakenly gain the impression that, on the cross, God unleashed his judgment on Jesus in such a way that ontologically separated the Father from the Son. This suggests a split in the being of the eternal, unchangeable, perfect life of Father, Son, and Spirit.

What’s more, this isn’t the historic orthodox view of penal substitution—at least not as we encounter it in Calvin. He’s quite clear:

Yet we do not suggest that God was ever inimical or angry toward [Jesus]. How could he be angry toward his beloved Son, “in whom his heart reposed” [cf. Matt. 3:17]? How could Christ by his intercession appease the Father toward others, if he were himself hateful to God? This is what we are saying: he bore the weight of divine severity, since he was “stricken and afflicted” [cf. Isa. 53:5] by God’s hand, and experienced all the signs of a wrathful and avenging God. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.xvi.11)…

2. Don’t Forget Love Came First

A second mistake is connected to the first. Many have rejected the atonement as the satisfaction of God’s justice because they’ve gotten the impression that Calvary is about a loving Jesus satisfying an angry Father out for blood. Even when not explicitly taught this way, many in the pews can get this impression.

But this isn’t what we see in Scripture. Instead, we see the triune God of holy love purposing from all eternity to redeem sinners for himself…

3. Don’t Assume Wrath Is Everything 

I’ve focused on issues connected to wrath and punishment because Reformed evangelical preaching tends to rightly focus on penal substitution in its preaching of the cross. Penal substitution is central and foundational. Don’t forget, though, that the cross achieved even more. Christ accomplishes a lot in his life, death, and resurrection. Herman Bavinck notes the diversity of the New Testament witness: “Like the person, the work of Christ is so multifaceted that it cannot be captured in a single word nor summarized in a single formula.” We must remember not to sideline the various other aspects of Christ’s cross-work.

For instance, when was the last time you preached on Christ’s victory over the powers of sin, death, and Satan? The drama of the gospel isn’t just about interpersonal reconciliation between God and humanity, as glorious as that is, but also about its payout in liberating God’s people from the clutches of his enemies. The apostle John tells us the same Christ who came to make atonement for sin (1 John 2:2) also came to destroy the Devil’s works (1 John 3:8).

So, when speaking of Jesus’ death for us, we need to focus on the unity of action of Jesus and the Father (and the Spirit), the primacy of love, and the cross as defeating the powers, reconciling us with God and one another, liberating us, demonstrating God’s love, leaving us an example, destroying the work of the devil and signalling the beginning of the end of ‘this age’, as well as dealing with sin and obtaining the assurance of forgiveness. Whether that leaves much of the more common uses of ‘penal substitution’ in preaching and teaching is an interesting point of debate.

I am not quite as convinced as Derek that, for example, having a developed understanding of the ‘two natures’ of Jesus will help us out of this. In the end, the idea that God himself becomes part of our world, and out of his love for us takes on the very sin which has separated, alienated and enslaved us, is a mind-boggling mystery. That does not mean we shouldn’t speak of it, still less that we shouldn’t preach on it (on Good Friday of all days, as some have suggested!). But it does mean that we should be careful to deploy the language and metaphors that we find in the New Testament—and ‘satisfying God’s wrath’ isn’t part of it.

(If you think that this is not a contentious issue, do browse through the 252 comments on the original post, including recent comments in a revived discussion over the last couple of weeks.)


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75 Responses to Did Jesus die to ‘satisfy God’s wrath’?

  1. Phill April 15, 2017 at 9:45 am #

    Hi Ian, at our Easter Eve service this evening I’m doing a little meditation on the cup of the Lord. It’s interesting looking at references to ‘cup’ in the Scriptures – we’ll be looking at Isaiah 51:17-23 (the cup of the Lord’s wrath), Matthew 26:36-46 (‘may this cup be taken from me’) and Rev 14:6-13 (‘being poured full strength into the cup of his wrath’). It seems to me that it is at least pretty logical to take these to refer to the same thing.

    Especially given the other evidence we have that Jesus ‘rescues us from the coming wrath’ (1 Thess 1:10) and an atoning sacrifice (1 John 2:2, 4:10).

    The BCP is clear that our sins provoke the wrath of God (BCP confession in the Lord’s Supper: “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we from time to time most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us”) and then using the word ‘propitiation’ in the comfortable words. I’m sure there is more in the homilies but I don’t have time to go through right now.

    I just find it hard to conceive of any way to understand this without in some way saying that Jesus satisfied the wrath of God. John Stott put it so well in The Cross of Christ. Maybe it’s because I’m a bear of little brain, but I see penal substitution everywhere in the Scriptures, it absolutely makes sense to me and seems logically consistent with the Scriptures as a whole.

    • Andrew April 19, 2017 at 4:02 am #

      Examining a similar discussion on another blog, I went through all the (English) references to God’s “wrath” or “fierce anger”. The language used with respect to God’s wrath / anger is never “sated”, but always “turned away” or “rescued” (or “hidden”). Punishment and repentance is made, and so God’s fierce anger is turned away (Num 25:4, Deut 13:17, Josh 7:26, 2 Chron 29:10, 30:8, Ezra 10:14, Jer 4:8, Jonah 3:9).

      I think the issue is muddying the distinction between justice and wrath. God’s wrath is coming because of injustice and evil. Embracing justice and good turns away that wrath. Sin demands the punishment of death. Sin also brings God’s wrath. Jesus death pays for (justice) our sins (e.g. Rom 3:25, 4:25), and this turns aside God’s wrath. But God’s wrath does not fall on Jesus per se. In fact, the wrath that was due to us doesn’t go anywhere, because in Jesus justice has been done.

      So Jesus death pays the price for (“satisfies”, if you will) our sin, which removes from us God’s wrath. But to collapse the sentence to “satisfies God’s wrath” conflates the result with the mechanism.

      • Phill April 20, 2017 at 2:16 pm #

        Hi Andrew,

        The references to God’s wrath in Revelation 14 and 21 (for example) – that of God’s wrath being poured out on the wicked – sound like there is no holding back. The wrath there is not turned away. Isn’t the point that in the OT God’s wrath is turned aside as a temporary measure, but full propitiation is only made at the cross where Jesus truly does satisfy the wrath of God by enduring it for the elect. So God’s wrath is endured by Jesus on the cross for the sake of the elect, but others will endure it in hell (e.g. John 3:36).

        This seems eminently logical, straightforward and biblical to me.

    • David Shepherd April 20, 2017 at 1:53 pm #

      Hi Phill,

      In terms of the homilies, please review the introduction to Of salvation by only Christ (Book 1):

      For the more full understanding hereof, it is our parts and duty ever to remember the great mercy of God; how that, all the world being wrapped in sin by breaking of the law, God sent his only Son our
      Saviour Christ into this world to fulfil the law for us, and by shedding of his most precious blood to make
      a sacrifice and satisfaction or (as it may be called) amends to his Father for our sins, to assuage his wrath
      and indignation conceived against us for the same.

      It’s a pretty clear declaration in support of penal substitution.

      • Phill April 20, 2017 at 2:17 pm #

        Thanks David – I knew it would be in the homilies, I just didn’t have the time to look it up! The homilies are a sadly neglected part of the Anglican tradition.

      • Will Jones April 20, 2017 at 2:54 pm #

        Hi David

        That’s a great quote. It doesn’t support penal substitution though as it fails to state that God was punishing Jesus on the cross (the penal bit in penal substitution), or pouring out his wrath on him. It presents it as a sacrifice of atonement to take away wrath – the tell is that it adds the word ‘amends’, which is what a sacrifice of atonement is about, making up for moral failure in lieu of punishment. It is a sin offering (with blood) to propitiate anger, not a conduit for wrath which ‘must go somewhere’ to satisfy justice. The difference might seem subtle, but it is crucial.

        • David Shepherd April 20, 2017 at 8:25 pm #

          Hi Will,

          The homily doesn’t just describe Christ shedding His blood ‘to make sacrifice, or (as it may be called) amends to his Father for our sins

          It includes : ‘to make…satisfaction..,to assuage his wrath and indignation conceived against us for the same.’

          Now, of Christ’s sacrifice being satisfaction to assuage God’s wrath, you may have tempered your view somewhat, but you previously wrote:
          ‘ I understand Hilasterion as Propitiation but not as satisfaction of God’s wrath

          The penal part of penal substitution is simply Christ’s voluntary and vicarious surrender to the forfeiture of all humane treatment and life itself as described so eloquently in Philippians 2:6 – 8.

          • Will Jones April 20, 2017 at 9:31 pm #

            Hi David

            The term satisfaction there is next to sacrifice and amends and surely refers to satisfaction in the BCP sense of a satisfactory sacrifice or payment (which Ian accepted as valid in the post). It isn’t satisfying wrath in the PSA Townend sense.

            Similarly the assuage is the assuaging of his ‘wrath and indignation’ and thus surely should be read in the sense of taking away rather than ‘satisfying having done its necessary harm, carried out the necessary punishment’. In the OT law that God’s indignation and wrath were assuaged by a sin offering didn’t imply they had done the necessary damage to something or carried out the required punishment somewhere – it was because the prescribed blood sacrifice had been offered and covered the sin.

            Phil 2:6-8 is not describing a punishment but a sacrifice and submission. ‘Voluntary and vicarious surrender’ should not be identified with punishment – they are quite different moral concepts. Indeed, that is the very distinction on which this whole debate turns.

          • David Shepherd April 20, 2017 at 10:30 pm #

            Hi Will,

            Christ’s ‘voluntary and vicarious surrender’ should be identified with the ‘curse of the law’.

            In as much as the curse of the law (which was our due as lawbreakers) is its penalty, By, penalty, I do not mean formulaic legal equivalence. Nevertheless, Christ satisfied the wrath incurred by the law and provided for us to obtain righteousness apart from the law.

            As I wrote below: ‘Nevertheless, Christ was made ‘under the law’ and our Father foreknew and His self-donation streamed forth through the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit to endure voluntarily and innocently the ignominious fate which God promised should befall those who were cursed by His law.

            In willingly enduring the curse of God’s law, Jesus was truly smitten by God’s sword of wrath.

          • Will Jones April 21, 2017 at 12:14 am #

            Hi David

            I think you’re saying that because Christ submitted to become human and to die on a cross he became subject to the curse of the law, which is death. I agree with this. But I dispute that this means he was being punished or satisfying wrath. He voluntarily submitted to the curse of the law (and the curse of Adam) and so died as ‘a curse’, but he did not do so as penalty or as punishment. His death was not a penalty or a punishment because he was not sinful. His death was a sacrifice of atonement, and indeed it is precisely because his death was not a penalty, because he was innocent, that it could serve as a sacrifice of atonement. This is why the inference from being ‘a curse’ to being punished isn’t valid – and why the NT doesn’t assert that Christ was being punished or suffering a penalty. He became a curse and he became sin, but he wasn’t punished. He bore our sins as a sacrifice of atonement.

            Likewise he did not bear God’s wrath. Although he died as ‘a curse’ and as ‘sin’ he did so as a sacrifice of atonement, bearing sins, not as a recipient or conduit of God’s wrath.

          • David Shepherd April 21, 2017 at 7:25 am #

            Hi Will,

            ‘We’re going round in circles’ as you’ve indicated with respect to the Zechariah passage.

            While you wrote: : ‘He voluntarily submitted to the curse of the law (and the curse of Adam) and so died as ‘a curse’, you fail to define what the curse is. It is a forfeiture under the law (and thus a penalty) that met the demands of divine justice.

            Now, if this forfeiture was thoroughly unconnected to the Law, your point about the atonement not involving any penalty or punishment would stand. Instead, contrary to your assertion, it is precisely because Christ’s forfeiture was the ‘curse of the law that Christ received the law’s penalty, voluntarily and vicariously endured on our behalf, such that our condemnation was averted.

            You wrote: His death was not a penalty because He was not sinful.

            So, your assertion has been that such a forfeiture, or penalty (i.e. curse) of the law can only be endured as a fate poured out by God upon the guilty, but not as a fate poured out by God’s pre-determined plan for the satisfactory atonement (or making of amends) by the innocent Messiah on behalf of the guilty.

            Your explanation as to why this particular forfeiture under the law cannot be a penalty is inadequate. Since God defines the Law, it is His prerogative to decide how we may be spared of its unyielding demand of obedience or death; how our offences ‘under the law’ may be settled.

            He can and has decided before all worlds that the innocent Christ should vicariously endure and be smitten by the forfeiture (which is the penalty) which He declared by the Law in order to make atonement on behalf of the guilty.

          • Will Jones April 21, 2017 at 11:48 am #

            Hi David

            I don’t think we’re quite in a circle on this one yet!

            You say: ‘Since God defines the Law, it is His prerogative to decide how we may be spared of its unyielding demand of obedience or death; how our offences ‘under the law’ may be settled. He can and has decided before all worlds that the innocent Christ should vicariously endure and be smitten by the forfeiture (which is the penalty) which He declared by the Law in order to make atonement on behalf of the guilty.’ I agree with all of this, except the parentheses. Surely the forfeiture is not a penalty/punishment but a sin offering in place of penalty? Isn’t that the point of a sin offering? In the OT the sacrificed animal is offered in place of a penalty, to cover sin – no one is being punished, yet the offence is removed. To identify Jesus’ sacrifice as a punishment seems strange given the meaning and use of sin offerings in the OT.

            I don’t think Jesus becoming a curse should be understood as a punishment. The curse comes from the fact that he is hung on tree, and has more the form of a consequence under the terms of the law than a penalty. The curse of the law is the condemnation humanity faces from being subject to the law (and failing to keep it all). Jesus redeems us from this curse first of all by submitting to the law and keeping it, and thus not being subject to the same curse as we are. However, he then ‘becomes a curse’ through the manner of his death, by which death he redeems us. Thus Paul can say that it is by becoming a curse that Jesus redeems us from the curse of the law. However, if Jesus became subject to the curse of the law (i.e. the curse we are under for failing to keep it) then he couldn’t redeem us from it. So we can’t understand the curse he became on the cross as the curse of the law, but another kind of curse (one arising from the fact of the manner of his death) and so not a penalty.

            This is in the same way that when Paul says Jesus became sin we can’t understand that he became sinful in the way that we are, because then he couldn’t save us. He became sin in a different sense to our being sinful (‘bearing sins’), and he became a curse in a different way to our being under the curse of the law. This is how I understand it anyway – perhaps we really are now heading quickly towards that dreaded circular place…

            I do have one question though: You say above that ‘by ‘penalty’ I do not mean formulaic legal equivalence’. So would you affirm or deny the claim that God has transferred to Christ the punishment and wrath that was due to each believer?

          • David Shepherd April 21, 2017 at 6:51 pm #

            Hi Will,

            You wrote: ‘the forfeiture is not a penalty/punishment but a sin offering in place of penalty.

            Yet, while Christ was both our propitiation and became a curse for us, they are two distinct dimensions of redemption and they should not be conflated. The propitiation is prefigured through OT sacrifices, while becoming the curse for us is prefigured in God’s remedy for the plague of snakes: ‘So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.”

            This bronze serpent (as a type of Christ) did not function as a sin offering. It functioned as the curse (the punishment on those afflicted) affixed instead to the pole on which it was raised. As Christ said of this: ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. (John 3:14)

            You wrote: ‘ However, if Jesus became subject to the curse of the law (i.e. the curse we are under for failing to keep it) then he couldn’t redeem us from it. This is a non-sequitur, you might also say that if Jesus became subject to death (i.e. the death we suffer for our own sinfulness), then he couldn’t redeem us from it. We both know that isn’t true.

            In terms of formulaic legal equivalence, I am simply distancing myself from the notion that there is some formula by which ‘the necessary quantum of suffering’ averted God’s wrath. Christ incurred the suffering and shame of the cross in pursuit of the ‘hope that was set before Him’. So, it not his suffering per se, but His (supererogatory) obedience unto death which was heard in that He revered God above all else.

          • Will Jones April 21, 2017 at 7:44 pm #

            Hi David

            Don’t speak too soon, but we may actually be making progress here. You say:’Yet, while Christ was both our propitiation and became a curse for us, they are two distinct dimensions of redemption and they should not be conflated.’

            This I completely agree with, and indeed is how I would understand the curse imagery. In addition to serving as a propitiation/sacrifice of atonement/sin offering, Christ’s death and resurrection also serves as a remedy to the curse of Adam and of the law by entering it and undoing it (and thereby inaugurating the new creation). I can even just about stretch to understanding this as a kind of penalty of the curse(s) and a kind of bearing of wrath on sin (though the NT doesn’t itself use those terms of Jesus’ death). I understand this more as a consequence of submitting to enter the curse and undo it – it’s not that Jesus is punished so much as endures what is for us the punishment, not so much that he suffers a penalty as suffers the consequences of the curse which was our penalty. Thought at this point we may be getting into fine semantics.

            The key point for me is that the ‘penalty’ or ‘wrath’ that Jesus suffers is not understood as a transfer of ours but as an entering into it in a new way that undoes it, remedies it, transforms it. As you say, this is distinct from the propitiation of wrath, so it should not be conflated with it, and that includes by thinking that the ‘wrath’ which Jesus suffers under when he submits to death on a cross is the wrath which is directed at us. That is propitiated via the other dimension to redemption, and so does not also need to be dealt with in this one.

            Having said that, I understand that the two are linked, since my understanding of why God has deemed ‘before all worlds’ that Christ’s death is to be the satisfactory sacrifice of atonement (propitiation) is, in part, because it also has this other dimension of remedy and undoing of the curse. Christ is the perfect sacrifice for sin in part because his sacrifice achieves both dimensions at once.

            So this is why the key question for me is whether a person regards the ‘wrath’ or ‘penalty’ under which Jesus suffers to be ours transferred to him, or whether it is something different: his own submission to the curse and its consequences (call it penalty and wrath if you like) to undo and remedy it. Which is it for you?

          • David Shepherd April 24, 2017 at 7:54 am #

            Hi Will,

            Sorry for the delay in replying, but I had to give ample thought to your salient question:
            ‘So this is why the key question for me is whether a person regards the ‘wrath’ or ‘penalty’ under which Jesus suffers to be ours transferred to him, or whether it is something different: his own submission to the curse and its consequences (call it penalty and wrath if you like) to undo and remedy it. Which is it for you?

            I reflected on several scriptures and the writing of St. John Chrysostom to clarify this. For instance: When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Col. 2:13,14)

            Pertinently, it was not a late innovation for St. John Chrysostom write of this scripture: ’Having forgiven us’ (charisamenos hemin), he says, ‘all the transgressions’ (panta ta paraptomata). Which? Those that produced the deadness. And what? Did He leave them to remain? No, but He even blotted them out….. ‘In the ordinances’ (tois dogmasin), he says. What ordinances? The faith. It is enough to believe. He did not set works against works, but works against faith. And what after these things? Again the blotting out is enjoined in order for remission. ‘And He hath taken it away’ (kai auto erken), he says, ‘out of the midsts’ (ek tou mesou). He did not keep it, but tore it asunder by ‘having nailed it to the Cross’ (proselosas auto to stauros)…

            “See how earnest He was to blot out ‘the written bond’ (cheirographon); to wit, we were all under sin and punishment. He Himself, suffering punishment, loosed both the sin and the punishment, and He was punished on the Cross. To the Cross then He nailed it. Then as having authority He tore it asunder. What bond? He speaks either of this, namely that which they were saying to Moses, ‘All the words which the Lord hath spoken, we will do and be obedient [Ex. 24:3],’ or, if not that, we owe God obedience; and if not that, he means that the devil held it fast, the bond which God made for Adam, saying, ‘In whatsoever day ye eat of it, ye shall surely die [Gen 2:17].’ This bond then the devil held fast. And Christ did not give it to us, but He Himself tore it, as one who is remitting with joy.” [Hom. 6. P.G. 62:367, 368 cols. 340,341).]

            So, Chrysostom is pretty clear in declaring of Christ: He Himself, suffering punishment, loosed both the sin and the punishment, and He was punished on the Cross.

            On this basis, I’m inclined towards the view that the ‘penalty’ under which Jesus suffers to be ours transferred to him; that it’s not just ‘curse imagery’ for St. Peter to make a direct connection between Christ’s forfeiture and God’s curse upon our sins: ‘He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Pet. 2:24)

            However, in Hebrews, we read: ‘But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Heb. 2:9)

            Christ’s taste, or experience of death (the curse) was vicarious by the grace of God, and, as I explained, not a ‘formulaic legal equivalence

            So, as is His prerogative, God graciously intended and counted Christ’s experience of death as sufficient to dissipate (cause to disappear, dispel) His retributive justice against sin.

            However, Paul emphasises that the power which Christ exercises on our behalf through the Holy Spirit as our resurrected and exalted High Priest will ensure that nothing will ‘separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus’.

            Whatever you make of this, I’m reminded of the verse in the hymn, There is a green hill far away

            ‘We may not know, we cannot tell,
            What pain He had to bear,
            But we believe it was for us,
            He hung and suffered there.’

          • Will Jones April 24, 2017 at 12:09 pm #

            Hi David

            Thank you, that’s very interesting.

            I must admit my knowledge of patristics is pretty patchy. Are there any other pertinent writings on this?

            Chrysostom is clear that Jesus was being punished on the cross, and that this was in order to ‘loose’ the bond of punishment. It’s a shame he doesn’t include scripture references for this idea, but presumably he is thinking of Isaiah 53.

            Personally I’d like a bit more than this, since it still doesn’t spell out some of the key ideas at stake: It doesn’t say explicitly that God was punishing Jesus with the punishment due to us transferred to him, and that this was necessary in order to satisfy his anger. As it is, it could be understood in terms of the symmetries of redemption: he was made sin to take away sin; he became a curse to redeem us from the curse; he was punished to spare us punishment etc. As I say, I can just about accept an idea of Jesus being punished in the sense of submitting to what is for us a punishment (curse, penalty, wrath) in order to undo it and transform it. This is how I would understand Isaiah 53. But if I’m being asked to sign up to a punishment transfer (wrath satisfaction) model (to which I have a moral objection stemming from the unjust nature of punishment transfer) then I’d like something more clear and incontrovertible.

            I think your denial of ‘formulaic legal equivalence’ brings us closer than others who regard God to be required by justice to carry out our punishment on Christ. But I don’t think we would always state things in the same way. For instance, you say: ‘So, as is His prerogative, God graciously intended and counted Christ’s experience of death as sufficient to dissipate (cause to disappear, dispel) His retributive justice against sin.’ However, I regard God’s ‘retributive justice against sin’ as dispelled by Christ’s death as a sin offering, rather than through his ‘experience of death’, which I regard, in conjunction with his experience of resurrection, to be the transformative side of redemption. For me, the two aspects are linked through God accepting Christ’s sacrifice as a sin offering in part because it is also a remedy and undoing of the curse of sin. To regard his experience of death as dissipating God’s retributive justice appears to obviate the need for a sin offering, and so conflate the two aspects of redemption. (On the other hand, scripture itself often appears to put the two aspects together (e.g. 1 Peter 2:24), so maybe there is some way to join the two aspects while overcoming my moral objection.)

  2. Christopher Shell April 15, 2017 at 11:09 am #

    Not being a skilled systematist I find the distinctions here very fine. There is an enormous amount of teasing out to be done even (a) to interpret individual texts aright. After which we have to (b) see if the various writers agreed with each other; and then (c) in the event that they did, see if what they agree upon is internally consistent and (d) try to estimate whether or not there are obstacles in the way of agreeing that their message corresponds to the reality of the case. Even (d) is fraught with problems since whereas we can do historical investigation about Jesus up to a point, how can we as humans adjudge what God is or is not likely to do? A four stage process. If the Trinity is involved, things get even further complicated by the fact that there is no view of the Trinity that is widely agreed on or without problems of internal consistency.

    Much discussion fails to distinguish between stages (a), (b), (c), (d). Insofar as discussion majors on (a), which it often does, it certainly seems to me that it is written both that the chastisement that brought us peace was upon the Servant, and that it was the LORD’s will to punish him. It is unlikely in the extreme that NT writers thought that cherry-picked snippets of Isaiah 53 applied to Jesus rather than the whole of the chapter. If it was not the whole chapter, then how was that prophecy-fulfilment? One can always cherry-pick, but that would not be convincing prophecy-fulfilment. Luke’s preface and Revelation shows that NT narrative is centrally all about prophecy-fulfilment.

    Given that distinctions are so fine, even if, hypothetically, PS is biblically incorrect, something almost indistinguishable from it is biblically correct.

  3. Jas April 15, 2017 at 11:28 am #

    I’m not on FB so I don’t know what defenses people made for the words “The wrath of God was satisfied”, but from what I read here, your argument is pretty much against the ‘cosmic child abuse’ type of understanding, hence:
    “it is from our sin and its consequences that Jesus saves us, rather than from a hateful God.”

    If that WAS the meaning then I’d agree that it is not Biblical. But I disagree with that interpretation. I would hope that people saw it like this (and I will keep it simple):-

    1) God hates sin. His ‘wrath’ indicates his opposition to sin
    2) The penalty of sin is death, which is the opposite to having eternal life in God’s presence
    3) In order for God to grant us eternal life, he must deal with our sin, which he does in the death of Jesus.
    4) The result is that the wrath of God against sin is no longer against those who repent and believe, so his rightful and necessary opposition to sin (his wrath) is no longer a barrier to us receiving eternal life.

    So, in Jesus, God provides a solution to the problem of “our sin and its consequences” as you put it. He does not deliver us from a “hateful God” as you put it. But the wording is an expression of the former and not the latter. The wrath of God continues against sin, and needs to in order for him to be perfect and just. But for those who are in Christ, that wrath against us as sinners is satisfied – it is no longer a barrier to eternal life.

    With such an interpretation, I see absolutely no problem with singing those words, and they are packed with meaning. I’d say that it isn’t the words, but the interpretation that is the problem: Imagine if you interpret the words as I do, seeing in these words a great declaration of what Christ has achieved on the cross; then somebody changes those words to “The love of God was magnified”. What just happened? Rather than speaking of God’s amazing solution to the problem of sin, it now suggests that all he needs to do is show that he loves us anyway! I think that’s why people are so against changing the words. I’m presuming that you wouldn’t want to give the impression that “sin is its own punishment’ as Steve Chalke puts it! But it is this kind of theology that people presume is behind the word change. Now that presumption may be a misinterpretation of the motives? – but I think that’s another matter of interpretation!

  4. Christopher Shell April 15, 2017 at 12:26 pm #

    Jas – I think you are exactly right that even though ‘the wrath of God was satisfied’ needs a great deal of discussion, ‘the love of God was magnified’ is a poor substitute and a regressive step. It is impossible for a death to show love unless the substitution/sacrifice/suffering background be present. Worse, the proposed replacement-line may have been sanitised in order to be fashionable and culturally acceptable.

    It is not clear what big picture is being operated with here, but it sounds like a vapid and internally inconsistent one. Christ’s death is an extremely grand ‘solution’ to provide if there was no problem of sin to be solved in the first place. Yet if there was no problem to solve, then nothing was achieved by Christ’s death either. So why is it lauded as a great event? Inconsistencies at every turn. Or is Christ’s death an example alone? Meaning that we should all do likewise?

    NT Wright prefers ‘the love of God was satisfied’ because (as ever) we can only ever give the correct answer if we see the big picture and where everything fits into it. In this case, wrath against sinful things is the righteous anger shown by anyone who is loving and caring in the first place, so is a necessary adjunct or manifestation of any genuine love. Love is the big picture; and wrath is important within it but is not the entire picture. God’s wrath here is not denied, nor is its appropriateness, but to ‘satisfy wrath’ is to be vengeful and immature. ‘Satisfaction for sin’ (objective) is not at all the same thing as ‘satisfaction of wrath’ (subjective).

  5. Jamie Wood April 15, 2017 at 4:11 pm #

    Ian, you ask Is Scripture supposed to lead us to right doctrine, or does good doctrine help us to read the Scriptures? And in your view, it is clearly the latter.

    Did you really mean that, or is it a typo? If Scripture is God-breathed, then Scripture comes first. So the Scripture leads us – to right attitudes, to right actions, and to right doctrine.

  6. Jamie Wood April 15, 2017 at 4:30 pm #

    There’s an additional problem with this particular combination of words and tune. As presented, anyone who sings “as Jesus died, the wrath of God ….” has to jump from middle-F (on the word “the”) a full octave to top-F (on the word “wrath”). Most men will struggle to sing top-F anyway. And whether sung or not, the tune makes the word “wrath” sound shrill – an unfortunate accident.

  7. Will Jones April 15, 2017 at 5:38 pm #

    Thank you, Ian. This is a really helpful consideration of the issue.

    I was a little confused, however, because the post seems to equivocate over whether penal substitution is or is not a valid understanding of the cross. I think it concluded it is, and indeed that it is an important understanding, quoting approvingly Derek Rishmawy saying ‘Penal substitution is central and foundational.’ But in which case I was unclear why it was taking issue with the words ‘the wrath of God was satisfied’, since surely that is just an expression of penal substitution, which is ‘central and foundational’, or at least valid?

    Is it that penal substitution is valid, but it should not be understood in terms of satisfying the wrath of God? Perhaps then we need to define our terms more sharply, since by penal substitution I understand the idea that God has transferred to Jesus our punishment and, for that reason, is no longer required to punish us. The underlying idea is that God’s justice requires that sin is punished (the punishment being the manifestation of his wrath), and that if he is to spare a person this punishment then someone else (someone innocent) must take the punishment instead. This appears to be based on the idea that there is a certain amount of punishment that needs to be meted out on sin for justice to be done or satisfied, and so Christ saves us from the punishment (which is God’s wrath) by voluntarily taking that punishment/wrath on himself. In this picture, it seems to me fair enough to speak of God’s wrath (or just punishment of sin) being satisfied in Christ’s death. So I don’t see why those who accept penal substitution should stumble over the words of the song (at least not on doctrinal grounds).

    Personally I take issue with these words because I reject penal substitution completely (as understood above). In fact, I reject the idea that Jesus is being punished by God on the cross at all. I reject this for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most important is that the NT nowhere speaks of Christ’s death as a punishment (or indeed as a bearing of God’s wrath). It speaks of it as a sacrifice of atonement (which does not involve any concept of punishment), as a redemption or ransom (i.e. a payment to set free), as becoming a curse and becoming sin and bearing sin, but not as a punishment or as bearing God’s wrath. There is therefore no basis in the NT for treating this as a valid understanding of Jesus’ death, let alone as a central one. It also was not an understanding found in the early church or in the church fathers. So we must conclude that the Reformers were in error to take this understanding as integral to Protestant faith.

    I think people like this theory because it sets up a mechanism they can easily comprehend. X amount of sin generates, by justice, X amount of wrath/punishment which has to go somewhere – hence Jesus had to die to take it away, by satisfying it through suffering sufficiently. But it’s too simple really, and has all kinds of problems, theological and scriptural.

    To be fair, parts of Isaiah 53 do seem to deploy this idea – which probably helps explain where it came from. But, importantly, the parts of Isaiah 53 quoted in the NT do not. Indeed, even as they referred to Isaiah 53 to explain the meaning of Jesus’ death the writers of the NT refrained from stating that Jesus was being punished by God. Which isn’t all that surprising when you think about it – that’s what Jesus’ enemies were saying! He was a sacrifice of atonement put forward by God, a redemption or ransom to free condemned mankind. But he was not being punished or bearing God’s wrath.

    I think what people really want to know, and where all this comes from, is why God required Jesus to die in order to save us: why was Jesus’ death a sacrifice of atonement, why was his blood required to redeem condemned humankind? They want a mechanism. I have my own ideas about this, but I won’t bore you with them here. The important point though is we are not justified in adopting the idea that Jesus was being punished in our place. (Though of course Jesus’ death was a substitution on our behalf in the sense that God presented him as the sacrifice required in order to spare us his condemnation; it just wasn’t achieved by punishing Jesus or by pouring out wrath on him, and the Bible does not say it was.)

    My own suggested alternative lyric is: ‘The wrath of God was turned aside.’ It keeps the wrath (so avoiding the fears about liberal theology) but shifts the image from penal substitution to a sacrifice of atonement, since turning aside the wrath of a deity is what atoning sacrifices were for. Is that more acceptable to the satisfaction deniers?

    • Phill April 18, 2017 at 10:13 am #

      Hi Will

      Replying to you here for the sake of convenience (just read your interesting discussion with David S). I’ll be honest, I cannot quite fathom your (and Ian’s) understanding of the cross so may I ask a few questions to clarify?…

      – Why did Jesus have to die?
      – What does Jesus’ death have to do with me (or anyone)?
      – In what sense did Jesus bear our sins in his body on the tree (1 Pet 2:24)
      – How is the charge against us nailed to the cross (Col 2:13-14), enabling God to forgive us?

      You seem to make much of the fact that the early church did not believe in penal substitution. It is true that they didn’t *major* on it in the same way that the reformers and many evangelicals did today. But it is wrong to say that it is absent from their writings. The book ‘Pierced for Our Transgressions’ has quotations from a number of ancient writers, from Justin Martyr onwards. If you haven’t read it, I would recommend it.

      • Will Jones April 18, 2017 at 12:08 pm #

        Hi Phill

        As I understand it, Jesus had to die for two connected reasons:

        1) Because God required a sacrifice of atonement to be made for the sins of humanity (to take away his wrath) and he deemed that the death of his Son was the fitting sacrifice for that (this is what Romans 3 is about). God may determine whatever sacrifice he deems appropriate for this.

        2) Because following Adam’s sin God placed humankind under a curse in which they are predisposed to evil and fated to die as the penalty for their sin. To rescue humankind from this condition God the Son became incarnate as a human being, in the likeness of sinful flesh, to suffer the consequences of this curse (suffering and death) and yet, because without sin, to be raised to life, in order to transform the curse of suffering and death into a source of blessing and life. Human beings can share in Christ’s victory over sin, death and suffering by being united to him through faith and baptism, on account of which also they share in his sufferings (this is what Romans 5-6 is about). Jesus had to become incarnate as a human being and die as a human being and be raised as a human being in order to transform the fallen condition of human beings, and thus become the one in whom human beings can be saved from their fallen state and its curse and consequences.

        These two aspects can appear to be unconnected – the first is just about the meaning of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice of atonement, whereas the second is about his whole incarnation as the firstfruits of a new creation and new humanity. But they are linked because we can understand God’s deeming Jesus’ death as a fitting sacrifice of atonement, not only because of its surpassing value, but because of the power he knew it had to transform humankind’s fallen condition. So in Christ’s death God deals with two matters at once: the need for a fitting sacrifice for sin, and the need to create a new humanity in which the curse of death is transformed into the gateway to resurrection life. This comprehensive soteriology is what Paul is setting out in Romans 1-8.

        Regarding 1Peter 2:24: ‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.’ You can see both aspects at work here. He bore our sins by providing the requisite sacrifice for sin. And that enables us (with Christ and in Christ) to die to sin and live to righteousness.

        Thanks for the book tip.

        • Phill April 18, 2017 at 1:19 pm #

          Hi Will,

          Thank you for taking the time to reply to me. I’m afraid I’m still a little in the dark though.

          I agree that the curse needed to be undone, and Jesus inaugurates the new creation which we can participate in by faith. But death is a sign of God’s wrath, is it not? Death is the ultimate sign that mankind is under the curse of God from Genesis 3. In other words, death is a punishment in itself – not just physical death but spiritual death (c.f. Rev 20:14). So I’d agree that your two points are connected, but I’d want to draw an even tighter connection between them.

          I’m always a little suspicious when people say things like “That’s what [large chunk of Scripture] is about”. It’s easy for the details to get washed away in the general ‘sweep’ of Scripture. People sometimes use this reasoning with same-sex marriage – “the general sweep of Scripture is towards inclusivity…”

          To take an example, Romans 3, which you say is about Jesus being a “fitting sacrifice”, has these words:

          “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

          So in this sacrifice God was demonstrating his righteousness, because previously he had left sins unpunished. Does this not strongly imply that God was indeed punishing sins in Jesus, so that the believer can be justified? This means that no sin is left unpunished: either sins are punished in Jesus (and the believer is forgiven), or sins will be punished in hell.

          I sometimes use this to help explain the gospel to people. Heb 9:22 “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” – either Jesus pays for our sins with his own blood on the cross, or we pay for them with our own in hell.

          Therefore it seems entirely consistent and logical to me that the on the cross Jesus did indeed take the punishment – satisfy the wrath – of God. Of course one needs to be careful how one defines these terms – it has often been misrepresented. But that doesn’t mean it is impossible to do so.

          Pierced for Our Transgressions is a good book looking at the Biblical, theological and historical aspects of the doctrine, and also answering some common questions. I’d also suggest John Stott’s “The Cross of Christ” which is a wonderful book. Always edifying.

          • Will Jones April 18, 2017 at 2:48 pm #

            Hi Phill

            You say: ‘Death is a sign of God’s wrath…death is a punishment in itself.’ Yes death is a sign of God’s wrath, and death is a punishment for fallen humanity. But *Christ’s* death was not a punishment, it was a sacrifice of atonement – that’s the whole point. Humanity is fallen and sinful and under God’s curse and deserves to die. But Christ appears in the likeness of sinful flesh – flesh and blood but not fallen or under a curse or sinful – in order to make the necessary sacrifice of atonement. So his death is not a punishment – that’s precisely why it can serve as an atoning sacrifice. While death is the penalty for sin for fallen humanity, Christ did not suffer the penalty because he was not sinful; instead he offered his perfect life as a redemption for fallen humankind.

            You say: ‘So in this sacrifice God was demonstrating his righteousness, because previously he had left sins unpunished. Does this not strongly imply that God was indeed punishing sins in Jesus, so that the believer can be justified?’ No, not at all. Because Paul says that ‘God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement’. Which, to repeat, has nothing to do with punishing the thing sacrificed. A sacrifice of atonement is not being punished! Paul says: ‘He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished,’ This just means that his justice required a sacrifice of atonement to atone for the sins which he had not punished. This, of course, is why the law includes sin offerings. It still does not imply punishment of the thing being sacrificed: a sacrifice is in lieu of punishment, not a transfer or conduit of punishment. (This really is a crucial point that I’m not sure you’re fully appreciating.)

            Paul goes on: ‘He did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.’ It demonstrates his righteousness because it shows he is not ignoring the sins but is making the necessary atoning sacrifice for them, as per the law. This is the righteousness apart from works of the law, but to which the law and prophets bear witness – a righteousness or justification which is achieved by a sacrifice of atonement which God provides. There is no need to bring in concepts of punishment transfer (wrath satisfaction), which are not there in the text and are not implied by the ideas used (sacrifice of atonement).

            God does not need to punish every sin, as you imply; that’s the point of sacrifices of atonement, they remove the need for punishment (and, again, not by transferring the punishment to the sacrificed object). (Incidentally I agree that Jesus ‘pays for our sins with his own blood on the cross’ – that’s what redemption and ransom imagery is about. The point is that this ‘payment’ is not a transfer of wrath or punishment, it is a sacrifice of atonement. This is the crucial distinction that evangelicals schooled in PSA don’t see.)

            All this is important because it means God is not pouring out his wrath on his Son/himself or punishing his Son/himself in order to satisfy (or quench or assuage or exhaust) his wrath and avoid having to punish us. Something much more beautiful and subtle is going on – a sacrifice of atonement, and the undoing of the curse and inauguration of the new creation.

          • David Shepherd April 18, 2017 at 7:22 pm #

            ‘But Christ appears in the likeness of sinful flesh – flesh and blood but not fallen or under a curse or sinful’

            Not fallen or sinful, but according to Gal. 3:13, under a curse: ‘Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is every one who hangeth on a tree”),

          • Will Jones April 18, 2017 at 11:14 pm #

            Hi Phill

            Ah yes, Isaiah 53. So there is a passage which does appear to speak of a person being punished for our sins and in our place: ‘But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.’ If we simply take this to be a straightforward description of Jesus and his death then surely we can find here a basis for ideas of punishment transfer (and thus, indirectly, wrath satisfaction). Here, though, are my reasons for not making this apparently simple inference:

            1. The NT does not cite directly and apply to Christ the parts which state the servant is being punished. For example, 1 Peter 2 refers to a number of parts of it including ‘by his wounds we are healed’, yet not the first part of the same sentence, ‘upon him was the punishment that made us whole’. It is as though the writers are reticent to state that Jesus was being punished by God or subject to divine judgement or wrath. I suggest this is deliberate, and is because the idea did not sit right with them – Jesus was the perfect lamb of God who shed his blood to redeem mankind; he was not subject to God’s judgement, punishment or wrath. (It would also be an inspired omission of course.)

            2. Isaiah 53 is not actually as a whole a perfect fit for Jesus. For example, vv2-3: ‘He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.’ This describes a man who was despised and deeply unpopular and unattractive and considered by everyone as under God’s condemnation because of his suffering with disease and infirmity. But that does not describe Jesus at all, who as far as we know was never sick or infirm, and who was immensely attractive and popular to many people. v4: ‘Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.’ Here the person’s chronic sickness, while regarded as being a judgement of God, is portrayed as a carrying of our sickness and infirmity. But again, this does not describe Jesus, who was never sick, and was not deemed stricken by God in his sickness, and was not believed to carry our diseases by being himself diseased. I suggest that we therefore have good reason to be cautious in our application of Isaiah 53 in its entirety to Christ (this is a good general rule I think for applying all OT prophecy – cf. my discussion below with David S about Zechariah 13).

            3. Isaiah 53 is the primary source for ideas of Christ ‘bearing’ our sins, and I think that it is in these passages that the NT comes closest to stating a punishment transfer model of atonement. However, my reading of this is that the bearing of sins is best understood in terms of a sacrifice of atonement (or sin offering), which is in fact frequently referred to specifically in the NT, rather in the Isaiah 53 punishment transfer terms, which appear to be avoided, or at any rate are absent. Having said this, 1 Peter 2:24 – ‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.’ – clearly sees the bearing of sins to be more like a taking away or healing of sinful desires so that we become free from sins and thus live rightly. Which is more like the idea of undoing the curse and bringing us into a new life in the Spirit than a sacrifice of atonement. But either way, the NT appears to avoid bringing into direct view the ideas of punishment transfer from Isaiah 53, and substituting them for others.

            I hope this helps to explain why I don’t feel Isaiah 53 requires me to accept punishment transfer theory (and I am bolstered in this feeling by the lack of prominence of the idea in the church fathers). You may feel that I am just being unjustifiably selective in my use of the Bible. But perhaps I have had some success in explaining why I regard my selective application of Isaiah 53 imagery to Jesus as justified.

            Hope you had a nice evening!

        • Phill April 18, 2017 at 7:50 pm #

          Hi Will,

          I am about to head out for the evening but I think I am beginning to understand your position.

          You said elsewhere that the NT does not quote certain parts of Isaiah 53 – so what do you do with the bits of Isaiah 53 which the NT does not quote? Ignore them? Isn’t it better to assume that the NT writers intended the meaning of Isa 53 in context?

          • Will Jones April 18, 2017 at 11:17 pm #

            I appear to have got confused about where to reply. My response to this is above!

        • Phill April 19, 2017 at 10:11 am #

          Hi Will,

          Thanks for clarifying your understanding of Isa 53. I do feel like I understand your view a little better, even if I still strongly disagree with it!

          My view of Scripture will not allow me to say of the NT writers “because the idea did not sit right with them” – I believe the whole of the OT is Christian scripture, and Isaiah was prophecying about Christ. On your points – I agree that we have to be careful with prophecy, but in this instance I think I’d see it a bit differently.

          You say on vv2-3, “This describes a man who was despised and deeply unpopular and unattractive and considered by everyone as under God’s condemnation because of his suffering with disease and infirmity.” I don’t think it means that he was despised and rejected by *everyone* – but he was certainly despised and rejected by the Pharisees and those crowds who shouted out “crucify him!”

          On v4 you say: “Here the person’s chronic sickness, while regarded as being a judgement of God, is portrayed as a carrying of our sickness and infirmity. But again, this does not describe Jesus, who was never sick, and was not deemed stricken by God in his sickness, and was not believed to carry our diseases by being himself diseased.” I don’t think that’s what v4 means. People did consider Jesus to be stricken by God (Matt 27:42 springs to mind). The NIV translates the words “pain and suffering”, which puts it in a different light to chronic sickness.

          And you have to deal with the very unambiguous phrases which are repeated several times, “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”, “he bore the sin of many”. In Isaiah the issue is the Lord’s wrath and judgement against the Israelites for their sin – most of Isaiah 5, for example – and yet moments of hope, e.g. 9:1-7. As the picture of the servant emerges, we see the way this hope arises is because the Lord himself will provide a servant who will bear the sins of many. He will take the punishment away by taking it upon himself. I think this is the understanding that the NT writers had – Isa 53 is alluded to in several places (e.g. compare Matt 26:63 with Isa 53:7) as well as the times it is quoted directly.

          If I may move away from Isaiah 53 briefly, there are other Biblical reasons for believing that Christ did indeed bear the wrath of God on the cross. One of them – the ‘cup’ – I mentioned in the first comment above. There are others also. Peter Bot wrote a book ‘The Cross from a Distance’ on the atonement in Mark’s gospel. One of the points he makes on Mark 8:31, for example, is: “The word used here for the Son of Man’s rejection (apodokimazo), although infrequent, is almost always used in the Septuagint for God’s rejection of Israel and as an equivalent for his wrath.” Similarly, Mark 10:33-34 uses the phrase “handed over to the Gentiles”. Bolt comments, “To hand someone over to the nations (Gentiles) is equivalent to handing someone over to God’s wrath”. R.T. France comments on these vesres, linking with what I said about Isaiah 53 above, “each of these four elements is included in the ‘blueprint’ for the suffering of the Isaianic servant (mockery and spitting; scourging; death).”

          So I believe there is evidence aplenty for Jesus bearing the wrath of God from the New and Old Testaments. It makes best sense of the cross for me. It gives meaning to Jesus’ sacrifice. All this is explored much more fully in the books I mentioned.

          (And I did have a nice evening, thanks!)

          • Will Jones April 19, 2017 at 10:49 am #

            Thanks Phill.

            My main response to your take on Isaiah 53 is that it seems to me that you are making those bits fit with Christ by finding ways in which they can be true of him. But if you actually just read it on its own terms, it is describing someone who suffers with infirmity and disease, and who because of that we despised and held to be stricken by God and ‘of no account’. But I’m sure I won’t be able to persuade you of this!

            For the cup of wrath – note that Jesus tells James and John that they too will drink from that cup, so again the imagery is mixed and doesn’t fit with simply Jesus bearing God’s wrath in our place.

            It’s interesting that you cite the rejection by the elders in 8:31 as a reference to God’s wrath, since the elders were hardly doing the will of God. I suspect that a large part of our issue here is that the Bible often seems to give mixed messages about whether suffering is a manifestation of evil or of God’s judgement. For instance, the gospels portray Jesus’ passion as a cup of suffering from the Lord, God’s will, a ransom for many, and a striking of the shepherd. Yet they also depict Satan inspiring Judas and other actors to bring it about, and portray it as a great sin on the part of the Jews. So is it something God is doing or something Satan and evil people are doing? This ambivalence can also be found in 1 Peter, where the suffering of the church is attributed to the Lord’s will as unjust suffering (3:17), to judgement on the household of God (4:17), and to the activity of the devil (5:8-9). This is reminiscent of the differing accounts of David’s census, where one says it is God who tells him to do it and the other that it was Satan. To be honest, this is one of the issues of biblical interpretation I find most challenging. Perhaps then whatever reality lies behind these difficult to understand statements, also lies behind Christ’s passion, and that in that sense it really is also a judgement from the Lord. Personally, though, I’m glad that it is not a major theme in the NT, or in the early church, and I wish it wasn’t now so popular amongst evangelicals.

            On finding meaning in Jesus bearing God’s wrath. Personally I find the idea very unappealing, since it suggests that God cannot accept an atoning sacrifice for forgiveness but must actually carry out his punishment somewhere to be ‘just’, and so must carry it out on himself (even though he is innocent, so how does that satisfy justice?). I just find this bizarre, incoherent even, and am personally relieved to find it is not an image that NT writers appear to use, except perhaps obliquely. The idea of a sacrifice of atonement, as found in the law, is to my mind much more coherent, especially when combined with ideas of thereby undoing the curse and inaugurating the new creation.

        • Phill April 19, 2017 at 12:08 pm #

          Hi Will

          It’s interesting you mention suffering as being from the Lord / from evil, because I think it’s a both/and situation (Gen 50:20). On the cross, this comes to the fore most of all: “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) – Jesus was handed over according to God’s plan, but “you put him to death”. Throughout the OT, the other nations are often portrayed as doing the will of God in punishing Israel by attacking them – even though they are still culpable!

          I find the idea of a sacrifice of atonement actually more unappealing – if Jesus did not die to bear our sins, then God is simply demanding blood almost arbitrarily. Isn’t that just as bad, if not worse?

          Anyway, I feel like it’s time to draw stumps on this discussion, it’s been interesting but I feel that what we’ve been gradually moving towards is that there are some pretty huge differences going on in the way we approach the Bible, and before we could come to agreement on this we’d need to work through the other differences – which would take a very long time!

          I do commend the two books I recommended above, God bless Will, I’ve enjoyed this discussion, hope it’s been profitable for you.

          • Will Jones April 19, 2017 at 3:29 pm #

            Thanks Phill. Yes, I realise it is sometimes both-and with suffering, and my comment perhaps could have been a bit sharper. I’ve found this discussion helpful as it has pointed to the ways in which Jesus’ passion was in the NT sometimes referred to using imagery associated with wrath and judgement, challenging me in my claim that the imagery is always avoided. I will reflect further on how significant that is, and what it might mean for the role of punishment transfer/wrath satisfaction in the atonement.

            Good to wrestle with these things together, even if we continue to disagree at the end.

  8. Philip Almond April 15, 2017 at 7:02 pm #

    Will
    I don’t think Ian is quoting approvingly from Derek’s article because he goes on to say, ‘Whether that leaves much of the more common uses of ‘penal substitution’ in preaching and teaching is an interesting point of debate’. I plan to reply to Ian. I also plan to reply on this thread to your latest post on the other thread. I see that Oliver does not plan to post again but I may reply to his latest post on the other thread

    Phil Almond

  9. Simon April 15, 2017 at 7:14 pm #

    Thank you Ian – I do like Will’s lyric suggestion above and his desire to include God’s mercy (as per LXX/mercy seat) whilst doing justice to God’s wrath.

    Ian, would you agree that traditionally, Evangelicals (and I include myself) hold to the doctrine that the cross satisfied God’s just wrath against human sin because they interpret the words Hilasterion (Rom3v25) and cognates (Heb2v17;1Jn2v2,4v10) as referring to propitiation and propitiation to satisfaction, and this translation of this term makes sense to them of the flow of argument in Romans 1-3. If Evangelicals can be shown that Hilasterion is not propitiation or that propitiation is not satisfaction of God’s wrath, and that the apostles meant something else when they used such words, then they would concede and embrace the alternative rendering of the word and doctrine that follows. Evangelicals desire to be faithful in rendering and reading Scripture’s words as the Spirit inspired and Apostle intended. Generally, evangelicals haven’t been convinced by the arguments against Hilasterion as Propitiation or Satisfaction. Truly Truly at the cross God’s mercy is shown, God’s love is satisfied, God’s wrath is turned aside – but is that what Paul, and the inspiring Spirit, specifically intended us to understand when we read Rom3v25?

    • Will Jones April 15, 2017 at 7:24 pm #

      Thanks Simon, glad you approve.

      From my point of view I understand Hilasterion as Propitiation but not as satisfaction of God’s wrath. It propitiates God’s wrath since it takes it away/turns it aside. But it doesn’t satisfy it – at least, not if by that is meant that it has caused the necessary quantum of suffering (which is what proponents of penal substitution typically mean by it).

  10. Alan Darley April 15, 2017 at 9:11 pm #

    At least two issues are here conflated: whether the term ‘satisfaction’ is in Scripture with whether penal substitution is taught. This would be a strange distortion of sola scriptura which denies the translatability of revelation! As Aquinas says: ‘For it is irrational and improper, as I believe, that a person does not keep in mind the power of the intention, i.e. that which someone intends to signify through the name, but only the words themselves.’ (In librum Beati Dionysii De Divinis Nominibus Expositio 4.11, tr. Harry C. Marsh, ‘Cosmic Structure and the knowledge of God: Thomas Aquinas’ In librum Beati Dionysii De Divinis Nominibus Expositio,Phd Dissertation (Vanderbilt University, 1994); p. 376.). Think of Tertullian’s use of the term probole or Athanasius’s use of homoousios in defence of orthodoxy.

    Though the term ‘satisfaction’ may not be a test of orthodoxy per se, what it refers to, namely substitutionary atonement is. Substitionary atonement was one of the ‘fundamentals’ of evangelicalism which appeared in the publication ‘Fundamentals’ in 1909 and at The General Assembly of the Northern Presbyterian Church (1910). (See J.I.Packer, ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God (IVF, 1960), c. 2); In October, 1942, ‘the substitutionary death of our Lord Jesus Christ, and his resurrection, as the only way of salvation from sin through faith.’ was insisted upon as part of the doctrinal basis of the London Bible College. (See H.H.Rowdon, London Bible College, the first 25 years (Henry E.Walter Ltd., 1968), p.18).

    Unlike modern Phd students it would have been the last thing Anselm wanted to bring an ‘original contribution’. He was a medieval Augustinian defending the apostolic faith. In fact PSA is taught in Justin, Augustine, Athanasius etc..

    While not using the term ‘satisfaction’ it is crystal clear from Scripture (and from Augustine) that 1. Jesus bore a penalty which was not a penalty for his own sin. 2. This was the death penalty which is a consequence of our sin (Genesis 3). 3. That this was something we deserved and which he took in our place (substitution) as the Lamb of God 1 Peter 3:18; Galatians 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24; Mark 10:45 etc..

    Romans 1:18ff says that the wrath of God is being revealed from Heaven. How is this wrath to be removed except through some sort of ‘satisfation’? 3:25 tells us the answer. – the hilasterion – the propitiation or mercy seat. God condemned sin in the flesh of Jesus Christ whose flesh was condemned in our place (Romans 8:3). To use the words of another Easter hymn which deniers of PSA cannot sing with integrity:

    ‘Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
    In my place condemned He stood;
    Sealed my pardon with His blood.
    Hallelujah! What a Savior!’

    In Isaiah 53: 5, ‘ Of whom does the Prophet speak, himself or some other man?’ (Acts 8:34) ‘ He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement that brought us peace as upon him and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’ 1 Peter 2:24 identifies Christ with the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 and the author of 1 Peter was very clear in his reply to the Ethiopian that the passage was speaking of Jesus ( v. 35-36), as was Matthew (8:17).

    And 700 years before Anselm, Augustine is explicit that the WHOLE PASSAGE of Isaiah 53 is prophetic of Christ:

    ‘The cry of the whole Church is, I have gone astray like a lost sheep. From all the members of Christ the voice is heard: All we, as sheep, have gone astray; and He has Himself been delivered up for our sins. Isaiah 53:6 The whole of this passage of prophecy is that famous one in Isaiah which was expounded by Philip to the eunuch of Queen Candace, and he believed in Jesus. Acts 8:30-37 See how often he commends this very subject, and, as it were, inculcates it again and again on proud and contentious men: He was a man under misfortune, and one who well knows to bear infirmities; wherefore also He turned away His face, He was dishonoured, and was not much esteemed. He it is that bears our weaknesses, and for us is involved in pains: and we accounted Him to be in pains, and in misfortune, and in punishment. But it was He who was wounded for our sins, was weakened for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and by His bruise we are healed. All we, as sheep, have gone astray; and the Lord delivered Him up for our sins. And although He was evilly entreated, yet He opened not His mouth: as a sheep was He led to the slaughter, and as a lamb is dumb before the shearer, so He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His judgment was taken away: His generation who shall declare? For His life shall be taken away from the earth, and for the iniquities of my people was He led to death. Therefore I will give the wicked for His burial, and the rich for His death; because He did no iniquity, nor deceit with His mouth. The Lord is pleased to purge Him from misfortune. If you could yourselves have given your soul on account of your sins, you should see a seed of a long life. And the Lord is pleased to rescue His soul from pains, to show Him light, and to form it through His understanding; to justify the Just One, who serves many well; and He shall Himself bear their sins. Therefore He shall inherit many, and He shall divide the spoils of the mighty; and He was numbered among the transgressors; and Himself bare the sins of many, and He was delivered for their iniquities. Isaiah 53:3-12 Consider also that passage of this same prophet which Christ actually declared to be fulfilled in Himself, when He recited it in the synagogue, in discharging the function of the reader: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me: to preach glad tidings to the poor has He sent me, that so I may refresh all who are broken-hearted,— to preach deliverance to the captives, and to the blind sight. Isaiah 61:1 Let us then all acknowledge Him; nor should there be one exception among persons like ourselves, who wish to cleave to His body, to enter through Him into the sheepfold, and to attain to that life and eternal salvation which He has promised to His own.— Let us, I repeat, all of us acknowledge Him who did no sin, who bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we might live with righteousness separate from sins; by whose scars we are healed, when we were weak — like wandering sheep.’ (Augustine, City of God Bk 13:54)

    • Will Jones April 18, 2017 at 12:38 pm #

      Hi Alan

      You say: ‘While not using the term ‘satisfaction’ it is crystal clear from Scripture (and from Augustine) that 1. Jesus bore a penalty which was not a penalty for his own sin.’ Actually you also won’t find in the Bible the phrase that Jesus bore a penalty, or that he was being punished. So it isn’t crystal clear at all.

      God’s wrath is removed by propitiation, not by being satisfied. Sacrifices of propitiation do not ‘satisfy’ God’s wrath (through a transfer of punishment or wrath), they remove it.

      In Romans 8 flesh means fallen human nature. Romans 8:3 is about how God condemns sin in fallen human nature (the flesh) by showing that it required the sacrifice of his Son in the likeness of sinful human nature (sinful flesh) as a sin offering to deal with it. This was in order that ‘the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit’ i.e. so that we will live in Christ by the Spirit and do what is right.

  11. Mrs S Wilson April 15, 2017 at 9:30 pm #

    As a layperson, can I remind all the erudite commentators that we are talking about one line of a hymn, not a 45-minute sermon which explains all the details of the suffering and death of the Lord? The apostle Paul said that Christ, who knew no sin, became sin for us so that we might become righteous. Surely at the moment when that happened, He took the penalty we sinners deserved, and God’s wrath – i.e. settled hatred of the sin which had separated us from Himself- was satisfied? Christ was not punished: He voluntarily gave Himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, knowing what was to happen, but embracing it ” for the joy that was set before Him” as Hebrews puts it.
    Any other words than the original in the hymn should not be used if the authors do not permit it. The alternatives I’ve read about aren’t anything like as good anyway.

    • Will Jones April 15, 2017 at 9:45 pm #

      1. If ‘Christ was not punished’ then it isn’t penal substitution. That’s what the penal bit means.
      2. If Christ ‘took the penalty’ then he was being punished. But the Bible does not anywhere say that he ‘took the penalty’.
      3. Neither does the Bible anywhere say that in this process God’s wrath ‘was satisfied’. It was just taken away on account of Christ’s atoning sacrifice or redemption. There is no suggestion that it somehow exhausted itself on Christ by causing him to suffer.

      So surely you shouldn’t believe things about Jesus’ death that aren’t in the Bible!

      • David Shepherd April 17, 2017 at 11:43 am #

        Hi Will and others,

        The real issue is that many who comment adversely here about the Stuart Townend hymn are imposing the most pejorative connotations on the word, wrath.

        For instance, as one skims through the comments, we see a variety of negative connotations regarding what’s meant by divine wrath. Most of them describe this characteristic as not only in stark contrast, but also inimical to the exercise of divine love.

        The various descriptions include being: angry(which we are told has the potential to separate unity of action in the Trinity and which Ian tells us is never used in the NT to describe God); inimical and retributive.

        Firstly, we must remind ourselves that that these characteristics attributed to God, such as wrath (and even love) are anthropopathisms. So, the biblical authors, like Paul, are using these words as literary devices to teach about the nature and ways of an almost incomprehensible and extraordinary God (Is. 55:8)

        In a similar vein, God is also described in one verse as ‘changing his mind’ (Gen. 6:7; 1 Sam. 15:11) yet, He declares through Balaam that: ‘God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor son of man, that He should repent’ and, again, of His decision to eventually depose King Saul: ‘He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.’ (1 Sam. 15:29)

        Of course, the answer to this apparent paradox is that, we need to carefully distil the specific aspect of divine perfection intended by each metaphor from the lower fraction of applying every potential human connotation wholesale to God.

        We also need to distinguish human expressions of wrath, which are repeatedly cited as a failing and as being at odds with God’s priority for reconciliation (James 1:20)

        Secondly, despite its use in the pejorative sense, we would still do well to ask why such a word as wrath is repeatedly used by Jesus and the apostles to describe God’s action against sinfulness in the OT and NT: (Matt. 3:7; Luke 21:23; John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; Rom. 2:5; Rom. 2:8; Rom. 4:15; Rom. 5:9; Eph. 2:3; Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6; 1 Thess. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:16; 1 Thess. 5:9; Heb. 3:11 and, in Revelations, it’s used in seven instances to describe God’s retribution.

        Peter makes the case for declaring wrath to be a just attribute of God when He writes: ‘Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.’ (2 Pet. 3:9)

        So, awareness of divine wrath averts the danger of God’s forbearance in postponing retribution being interpreted as licence (Eccl. 8:11). Christ’s parable of unfruitful vine is also particularly appropriate in describing God’s eventual response to this situation (Luke 13:7)

        The word ‘wrath’ describes God’s retributive justice, which consists of nothing more (and nothing less) than God justly dispensing the consequences that sin deserves.

        As J.I. Packer described it: ‘“God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is. It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil”

        My main concern is that Ian’s summary of the doctrine of ‘penal substitution’ is inadequate when he writes: that Jesus died in our place, being punished by God for our sins, and so satisfying God’s wrath

        Yet, Jesus being ‘punished by God for our sins’ is not what is meant by penal substitution.

        Instead, the doctrine of penal substitution states that ‘God is not willing or able to simply forgive sin without first requiring a satisfaction for it. It states that God gave himself in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer the death, punishment and curse due to fallen humanity as the penalty for our sin.’

        Now, God giving himself in the person of Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer does not connote disparity of action.

        As J.I. Packer puts it: Propitiation is the work of God Himself. In paganism, man propitiates his gods. In Christianity, God propitiates His own wrath by His own action. God presented Jesus Christ, says Paul, to be a propitiation (Romans 3:21-26). He sent His Son, says John, to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). It wasn’t man, nor was it Christ, who took the initiative. The Bible insists that it was God Himself who took the initiative in quenching His own wrath.

        So, penal substitution does not mean that Jesus, through the cross, propitiated God’s wrath.

        Also, in Rom. 1, St. Paul repeatedly describes the outworking of wrath as simply being handed over to ‘do as we please’ in the custody of our own desires.

        The wrath of God is revealed through God neither directly nor immediately contesting mankind’s assertion of moral independence from God with its eventual loss of our God-wrought pangs of conscience.

        Conversely, the grace of God is revealed through the experience in response to the gospel of acknowledging our obligation to God as His creation and our return to Him, through Christ, as our only means of release (redemption) from the consequences of that unfulfilled and violated obligation.

        When it is qualified by the apostle in this way, it’s hard to understand why any Christians would have a problem with accepting the validity of declaring that divine wrath was satisfied through the cross.

        • Will Jones April 17, 2017 at 8:24 pm #

          Hi David

          The real issue here, at least as far as I’m concerned, isn’t negative connotations of the word wrath. I have no problem with the word wrath or the concept of it applied to God. It is very biblical. The problem is the word satisfaction. That indicates a specific way in which it is understood that God’s wrath is taken away from the believer. Satisfaction is not biblical.

          The issue also is not the word or concept of propitiation. That just means to take away wrath, and scripture is clear that Jesus’ death was a sacrifice of atonement (or propitiation) which took away God’s wrath from the believer. Again, the issue is the word and concept of satisfaction, which is not found in the Bible, and is used to imply a particular understanding of how God’s wrath is taken away.

          That understanding is that what was happening on the cross is that God was pouring out his wrath on Jesus in order to satisfy it, or quench it, or assuage it – the idea being that in order to take it away it must cause the requisite amount of suffering to someone. I take your point about the someone being God himself. But the point still remains that the underlying idea is that in order not to punish human beings God must satisfy or quench his wrath on himself by causing himself the requisite amount of suffering.

          You say: ‘Jesus being ‘punished by God for our sins’ is not what is meant by penal substitution. Instead, the doctrine of penal substitution states that ‘God is not willing or able to simply forgive sin without first requiring a satisfaction for it. It states that God gave himself in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer the death, punishment and curse due to fallen humanity as the penalty for our sin.’’ But whichever way you cut it that still says: ‘God gave…Jesus Christ, to suffer the…punishment…due to fallen humanity.’ It still says on the cross Jesus (who is God) was being punished by God (i.e. himself) in order to satisfy God’s wrath by enduring the requisite amount of suffering.

          Why do some Christians have a problem with this? The most important reason is that it is not biblical. The Bible nowhere says that Jesus was being punished by God on the cross, or receiving a penalty. It nowhere says that he was suffering under God’s wrath. It nowhere says he was satisfying anything, or quenching anything. He was just presented by God as a sacrifice of atonement or a redemption by his blood. In these images there is no suggestion of any punishment or wrath or satisfaction of wrath. You quote Packer saying: ‘The Bible insists that it was God Himself who took the initiative in quenching His own wrath.’ But of course the Bible insists no such thing, because it does not use the word quench in connection with Jesus’ death. These ideas are imposed on the text, they are not actually there in the words themselves.

          But why make a fuss about it? Basically because the image of God that it presents, as well as being unbiblical, is just so odd. It supposes the divine wrath on sin to be something which must cause a certain amount of suffering in order to be satisfied or quenched or assuaged – so that God must inflict it on himself if he is to spare us. But there is no biblical reason at all to suppose this to be the case. Sacrifices of atonement are offerings presented in lieu of punishment, not as a transfer of punishment. No one supposes God to be transferring his wrath to some grain and causing it to suffer! When the Bible says Jesus was a sacrifice of atonement it in no way says or implies that he was being punished. He was an offering in lieu of punishment, not a conduit for the punishment or wrath.

          So wrath fine. Propitiation fine. But Jesus being punished and satisfying God’s wrath? No. Not biblical. Not warranted. Not necessary. Not right.

          • David Shepherd April 17, 2017 at 10:27 pm #

            Hi Will,

            Your principal point appears to be that for a doctrine to be valid, it must be explicitly mentioned in the Bible, which is what you mean by biblical.

            You don;t take issue with divine wrath, but you assert that the concept of satisfaction is not found in the bible and that the underlying idea is ‘that in order to take it away it must cause the requisite amount of suffering to someone’ (even if that someone is God Himself).

            You further assert that ‘the Bible nowhere says that Jesus was being punished by God on the cross, or receiving a penalty.’ and in support of this, you wrote: ‘Sacrifices of atonement are offerings presented in lieu of punishment, not as a transfer of punishment. No one supposes God to be transferring his wrath to some grain and causing it to suffer!

            The grain offering example is particularly inappropriate to our discussion of how sin is remitted since it is only through the shedding of blood, which involves the suffering of death, that sins are remitted (Heb. 9:22) Grain does not shed blood.

            The centrality of blood sacrifice to divine forgiveness (as fulfilled in Christ’s death) is that it re-acknowledges God’s prerogative over all life (including innocent life) as its creator.

            In our penitent return to God, the sacrifice of Christ’s blood offers the essence of life back to God on our behalf. The Israelites were warned: ‘But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat. You must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water.’ (Deut. 12:23)

            Given the foregoing, it follows for ‘the divine wrath on sin to be something which must cause a certain amount of suffering in order to be satisfied or quenched or assuaged’ That suffering has always been the shedding of blood.

            Most clearly, St Paul declares that ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”

            How did Christ became a curse for us and why did Jesus declare of Himself that He would be smitten by God, unless He interpreted the cross as a transfer of punishment.

            If not a transfer of punishment the ‘just for the unjust’, how else do you interpret Zechariah’s messianic prophecy repeated by Christ:
            ‘“Awake, sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” declares the Lord Almighty. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land,” declares the Lord,“two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’?” (Zech. 13:7-9)

            Where is the biblical support for the notion that the shepherd (Christ) being struck with the sword (the repeated biblical symbol of wrath and punishment Job 19:29) is not the transfer of punishment, but instead is no more than an offering in lieu of punishment?

          • Will Jones April 17, 2017 at 11:43 pm #

            Hi David

            Given how important this doctrine is said to be, it would be nice if it was mentioned at least once in the Bible! But I do allow that doctrines can be implied. I just don’t think this is.

            Your explanation of the significance of blood in sacrifices is very helpful. But your conclusion doesn’t follow from it. There simply is no suggestion in OT sacrifices that the shedding of blood is due to a transfer of wrath or punishment. Ian makes this point in the post and cites a relevant scholar. Sacrifices of atonement and propitiation did not carry connotations of punishment or wrath transfer. The association is in the mind of some readers but not in scripture.

            Christ became a curse for us by dying on the cross. He suffered death, which was the curse of Adam, in order to provide in himself the means, through union with him, of being delivered from that curse and living the glorious life of the new creation. This is what Paul is setting out in Romans 5-6. I don’t see what it has to do with wrath transfer – as I’ve pointed out, when Paul mentions wrath in 5:9 he omits to mention that it has been satisfied in Jesus’ death.

            The striking the shepherd prophecy isn’t an image of salvation since it is about the sheep scattering. The point Jesus is making in using it is “This very night you will all fall away on account of me”. And note that in the original God then turns his hand against the ‘little ones’ themselves so it’s certainly not punishment or wrath transfer. I can’t pretend to understand its full meaning for Jesus here, but I also can’t see how it helps your case. I feel like you’re clutching at straws if this is the best scripture you have to support wrath satisfaction theory.

            Remember: this was not an idea found in the early church or church fathers. It’s a late innovation and unwarranted by scripture. Time to put it to rest!

          • David Shepherd April 18, 2017 at 12:40 am #

            Hi Will,

            You claim that ‘the striking of the shepherd’ isn’t an image of salvation. So, if not for our salvation, on what basis was Christ, in accordance with Zechariah’s prophecy, struck by God’s sword?

            The scripture’s reference to the sword is the plainest representation of divine punishment, yet despite admitting that you ‘can’t pretend to understand Christ’s full meaning here’, you opine: ‘I feel like you’re clutching at straw if this is the best scripture you have to support wrath satisfaction theory’.

            So, you’ve gone from introducing a complete non-sequitur about grain offerings to insisting that this prophecy of God calling forth His sword to striking the shepherd (Christ) is merely an image, not of salvation (or punishment) but of sheep scattering! And in all of this, you’re feeling like I’m clutching at straws?

            Your final appeal is that the doctrine of penal substitution represents a late innovation. Oh, like banning the keeping of slaves, permitting the re-marriage of divorcees and widows and women priests? Your point is?

          • Will Jones April 18, 2017 at 9:57 am #

            Hi David

            The grain offering admittedly wasn’t the most helpful illustration of my point, which nonetheless stands because wrath or punishment transfer is in no way part of a sin offering, despite the shedding of blood. Also, Leviticus 5:11 does allow flour to be offered as a sin offering by the poor, which does support the point.

            For the Zechariah prophecy, I was pointing out how Jesus applied it: he was explaining that, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me”. Your point is presumably that in the prophecy it is God doing the striking. Fair enough, and indeed we know that it is God who presents Christ as a sacrifice of atonement and it was his will for him to die. But we can’t assume that Jesus means to apply all the details of this prophecy to this circumstance, as it is also about how God then turns his hand towards the ‘little ones’, and he clearly doesn’t mean to imply that. Also, you are citing this in support of a theory of wrath transfer and satisfaction, and it clearly doesn’t support that as the shepherd is not struck in place of the sheep but as well, and as part of scattering and exposing them. This clearly is not Jesus’ intention in citing it.

            The point about wrath satisfaction being a late innovation is not that later developments can’t be right, but that it shows how it was not part of the understanding of the biblical writers or the early church, which underlines that it is not the teaching of scripture as the writers and their first hearers understood it. You could try to argue it was a legitimate development of doctrine, but that is not what evangelicals generally (or ever) argue: as per Packer, they just think it is what the Bible clearly states. But it isn’t.

          • David Shepherd April 18, 2017 at 4:13 pm #

            Hi Will,

            The issue with the grain offering is that, because it isn’t a sin offering, it doesn’t support your assertion that ‘wrath or punishment transfer is in no way part of a sin offering’.

            Neither does your reference to the Levitical exception (Lev. 5:11) which accepted a flour offering from the poverty-stricken.

            The very next verse explains how the flour offering was sanctified by blood: ‘And he shall bring it to the priest, and the priest shall take a handful of it as its memorial portion and burn this on the altar, on the Lord’s food offerings; it is a sin offering.’ (Lev. 5:12)

            This, of course, refers to the food offering in Lev. 4:34-35: ‘Then the priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out all the rest of its blood at the base of the altar. And all its fat he shall remove cas the fat of the lamb is removed from the sacrifice of peace offerings, and the priest shall burn it on the altar, on top of the Lord’s food offerings. And the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he has committed, and he shall be forgiven.

            Of the Zechariah prophecy, you write: ‘But we can’t assume that Jesus means to apply all the details of this prophecy to this circumstance, as it is also about how God then turns his hand towards the ‘little ones’, and he clearly doesn’t mean to imply that.

            Here, you’re cherry-picking. We might question what’s meant by ‘I will turn my hand against the little ones. Nevertheless, the prophecy describes both the scattering of the sheep and its cause: the shepherd smitten by the sword of God, the symbol of divine wrath.

            It is Christ who relates this scripture directly to His suffering, as He said: ‘This very hour’.

            Yet, you insist that this is not about Christ being struck by God in place of the sheep, but as well. You simply assert this, but have no valid rationale for doing so.

            I’m not arguing for this as innovation. However, you’ve failed to provide a valid explanation of this prophecy of Christ’s passion (which He said had begun from ‘this very hour’ through to His death on the cross).

            The scattering of the sheep was because this suffering was His alone to bear under the sword of Almighty God. There is no wiggle room with this, since to insist that this has nothing to do with the humiliations which he endured for our sin is not borne out by the gospel

            Alternatively, to claim, regarding this clear reference to His passion, that Christ was struck by God as well as His disciples is borderline heretical (Heb. 1:3)

          • Will Jones April 18, 2017 at 4:59 pm #

            Hi David

            It is not ‘my’ assertion that wrath or punishment transfer is in no way part of a sin offering. That’s just a standard observation about the meaning of OT sacrifices. To quote Ian’s post above, where he is quoting Stephen Travis: ‘There is no place [in the OT] for the popular idea that in the sacrificial ritual God is somehow punishing the animal…or for the inference that something parallel to that is happening in the sacrificial death of Christ. (p 197)’.

            I’m not disputing that sin offerings involved blood, and that Christ’s redemption was ‘by his blood’. I’m disputing the idea of wrath or punishment transfer, which is in no way implied by the role of blood in propitiation.

            You say: ‘We might question what’s meant by ‘I will turn my hand against the little ones.” It’s pretty clear, I’d say; ‘struck down and perish’ doesn’t leave much ‘wiggle room’. But Jesus isn’t meaning to imply it, so he isn’t applying the whole prophecy to his situation. Thus you can’t assume he means any more than that he is to be killed and his disciples will ‘fall away’ on his account. Although in the original prophecy it is God carrying out judgement on the people, beginning by striking the shepherd, in Jesus’ context there is no reason to think he is telling the disciples that God is about to turn his hand against them and cause two thirds to be struck down and perish. So we need to be cautious about how we take Jesus to be applying this prophecy to this situation.

            For Jesus the agent of his coming suffering was complicated: on the one hand it was something that Satan was conspiring to bring about (inspiring Judas to betray him), and which the Jewish and Roman authorities would carry out as a dreadful sin. On the other hand, it was a cup of suffering from the Lord, which God willed him to endure as a ransom for many. I’m not sure whether Jesus intended to imply by this reference that it would be God who was striking him, even while he did not intend to imply that God would then strike the disciples (perhaps he just meant that God willed it). But either way I don’t regard this complicated reference to a prophecy which does not wholly fit the circumstances of Jesus’ death and the fate of his followers under the hand of God (e.g. it is not even a description of vicarious suffering, let alone wrath transfer) to be a sound basis for a contentious idea which has no other basis in scripture. This really doesn’t feel like a solid foundation for a theory of punishment transfer/wrath satisfaction.

          • David Shepherd April 18, 2017 at 6:45 pm #

            Hi Will,

            You highlighted the flour offering (which is a sin offering, whereas the grain offering isn’t) as alternative support for your position.

            So, this time, I suppose that your retort might have been that: ‘No one supposes God to be transferring his wrath to some flour and causing it to suffer!’

            However, we now appear to agree that the adjacent verses and Heb 9:22 show that neither of these offerings negated the necessity of shedding blood (by which they were sanctified) for remitting sin and which always involves suffering.

            So, given that neither grain nor flour offerings support your point, it becomes a mere assertion that: ‘wrath or punishment transfer is in no way part of a sin offering’ and I’m disputing the idea of wrath or punishment transfer, which is in no way implied by the role of blood in propitiation.’

            You assert of Jesus’ reference to Zech. 13:7: ‘you can’t assume he means any more than that he is to be killed and his disciples will ‘fall away’ on his account. Although in the original prophecy it is God carrying out judgement on the people, beginning by striking the shepherd, in Jesus’ context there is no reason to think he is telling the disciples that God is about to turn his hand against them and cause two thirds to be struck down and perish.

            Nevertheless, whatever Zechariah may have intended by the entire passage, the part which Jesus quoted is messianic prophecy.

            You add: ‘on the one hand it was something that Satan was conspiring to bring about (inspiring Judas to betray him), and which the Jewish and Roman authorities would carry out as a dreadful sin. Yet, both Satan and the Jewish and Roman authorities are distractions from the focus of Zechariah’s messianic prophecy about God smiting the shepherd, whom Jesus declared to be Himself.

            Of course, I agree with you that ‘it was a cup of suffering from the Lord, which God willed him to endure as a ransom for many’, but you are simply over-complicating this direct reference to Christ being smitten by God’s sword of judgement in order to preserve your position.

            Whatever you make of the rest of the passage, the part which is reported by the gospel as quoted by Jesus does wholly fit the cause of Jesus’ suffering (‘I will smite the shepherd’) and the impact of His suffering on his disciples (‘and the sheep will be scattered’). We know that his suffering for sin (Is. 53:5) began, in that very hour of which He spoke, so its vicarious nature doesn’t have to be explicitly mentioned.

            Feel free to have the last word here, but we’ve both explained our respective positions in detail. Instead of continuing this exchange interminably, we should give pause for Ian and/or other commenters to contribute alternative understandings which we may not have considered (that is, if they haven’t already run off elsewhere).

            We can also both pray for each other that Jesus grants us both a far more nuanced, benevolent and humbled insight about the cross (by which we are saved) from His heavenly wisdom ‘that is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.’ (James 3:17)

            It would be good to see that kind of wisdom wending its way into these comment threads.

          • Will Jones April 18, 2017 at 8:13 pm #

            Hi David

            Happy to stop or happy to continue. Since you’ve indicated your wish to stop I’ll keep my comments here brief and limited just to clearing up a couple of things from my point of view.

            You say we agree that sin offering always involves shedding blood and always involves suffering. I see now that for you suffering is intrinsic to the shedding of blood. I don’t make that connection myself. For me the shedding of blood is not intrinsically about causing suffering as about the link between blood and life. As you put it earlier: ‘The centrality of blood sacrifice to divine forgiveness (as fulfilled in Christ’s death) is that it re-acknowledges God’s prerogative over all life (including innocent life) as its creator.’ I don’t see that OT sacrifices were concerned to ensure that the animal suffered to any particular degree as it gave up its blood. Anyway, that’s my observation.

            I don’t think it’s fair to say it is only a mere assertion on my part that OT sacrifices don’t involve wrath or punishment transfer. My case wasn’t built on the flour example, that was just meant to help, though perhaps it doesn’t. In fact, I never really made any case for this at all, but just cited authority, as I took it to be a standard scholarly observation (as per Ian’s quote) that OT sin offerings were not about, or conceived as, wrath or punishment transfer. If this assertion is in dispute then really it is beyond my competence to defend it. It is an assumption on my part based on what I take to be a scholarly consensus, or at least a standard position. Do you think OT sacrifices were about a transfer of wrath/punishment?

            I don’t think I am over-complicating the Zechariah reference. I thought I was keeping it simple by only applying it as Jesus does: to the fact that his disciples will become deserters that night. I was bracketing out the other implications of the passage, about God’s action, since Jesus does not make anything of them (and this is the same scene where Judas is inspired by Satan to go and bring the chief priests to arrest Jesus and strike him). But I don’t think we’re going to agree on this.

            Anyway, good to talk! And do come back on any of this if you want to; happy either way.

        • David Shepherd April 19, 2017 at 6:34 am #

          Hi Will,

          I’m only responding to clear up a few points raised by your reply.

          Firstly, you wrote about connecting the shedding of blood and suffering: ‘I don’t make that connection myself. For me the shedding of blood is not intrinsically about causing suffering as about the link between blood and life.’

          I should clarify, in relation to Christ’s sacrifice, that by suffering, I mean forfeiture, rather than endurance of pain.

          In terms of sacrifice, the shedding of blood always involves the unblemished forfeiting life.

          Secondly, despite Christ adding the first person pronoun to Zechariah’s prophecy (‘I will strike the shepherd’) and thereby directly attributing His imminent suffering to divine judgement, you opt for an ersatz argument from silence: ‘I was bracketing out the other implications of the passage, about God’s action, since Jesus does not make anything of them.

          However, by the time they arrive at the Mount of Olives, Jesus has mentioned His impending suffering several times. Here, he mentions yet another impact of it: that being smitten by God’s sword, the symbol of divine wrath, the sheep will be scattered. He must bear this suffering for sin alone.

          It is also clear from Gal. 3:13, that, on the cross, Christ endured the curse, the forfeiture by which wrath was executed, on our behalf.

          So, there is no basis for your claim that only Zechariah describes Christ as enduring divine wrath in this way.

          • Will Jones April 19, 2017 at 9:15 am #

            Thanks David.

            I’ll refrain from any further responses on the Zechariah passage as we are going round in circles, clearly unconvinced by each other’s argument. I did find it interesting to hear your position though, and your point about Jesus adding the first person to the citation made me think.

            Just to clarify one point on the curse, if I may: as I explain in one of my responses to Phill above, I understand Jesus to become a curse by dying on the cross, since death is the curse of Adam, and Jesus participates in it (‘becomes’ a curse) in order to undo it and transform it. Thus I don’t understand this becoming a curse to be punishment transfer/wrath satisfaction.

          • David Shepherd April 19, 2017 at 10:26 pm #

            Hi Will,

            I guess we can agree to disagree on the Zechariah passage, but your argument for dismissing its relevance to Christ’s passion is still faulty.

            Equally, your explanation of Gal. 3:13 is mistaken about its relation to the curse of Adam. You might admit that it explicitly refers to how we are redeemed from the curse of the law, not Adam: ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’

            So, as Paul explains it, Christ didn’t just become a curse by innocently dying Adam’s death. For here, as evidenced by the Law’s reckoning of the manner of His death, Paul is explaining how Jesus fully endured the curse of God’s law vicariously.

            This is how righteousness apart from the Law was made possible.

          • Will Jones April 20, 2017 at 2:43 pm #

            Thanks David, I agree with this – though since the curse of Adam was death it also redeems us from that. The curse of Adam and the curse of the law are linked, since ‘the law was brought in so that the trespass might increase.’ (Rom 5:20)

        • Dick April 20, 2017 at 5:35 am #

          Great contribution, thanks.

          Thinking through this topic has been valuable.

  12. Brian April 16, 2017 at 5:09 pm #

    “First, in the NT, whilst there is plenty of discussion about God’s wrath (or sometimes just ‘the wrath’) God is never described as being ‘angry’. Wrath is always a noun, and never a verb.”

    Well, d’oh. I am tempted to quote Wolfgang Pauli and say this ‘observation’ (from Dodd? against which Morris wrote ‘The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross’) isn’t even wrong.

    The ‘wrath of God’ doesn’t mean Attila the Hun. It doesn’t mean ‘an impersonal process of the universe’ (as, I think, Dodd claimed). Try some transformational grammar to make sense of it. It means: ‘God is angry [with X]’. Anger is an attribute of persons. Cancer isn’t ‘angry’, even if we anthropomorphise it. God’s wrath with sin is attested in Eph. 5.6; Col 3.6′ and throughout Revelation (6.16; 11.18; 14.10; 15.5; 15.7; 16.1; 16.19; 19.15).

    Romans 5.9 proves the opposite of what you assert. If we are saved on the Day of Judgment from the wrath of God, that can only be because of the Cross.

    • Will Jones April 16, 2017 at 7:23 pm #

      Obviously we are saved from God’s wrath by the cross. That’s what it means to call it a sacrifice of atonement (or propitiation). The point at issue is whether that is achieved by God transferring our punishment to him, and thereby satisfying his wrath. The latter is not a concept found in the NT but is commonly read into it by evangelicals. It also isn’t an idea found in the early church or church fathers.

      Romans 5:9 is the only verse in scripture which expressly associates Jesus’ death with God’s wrath. And it doesn’t say what you’d expect it to if Paul had ideas of wrath satisfaction in mind. In fact, far from asserting that God’s wrath was satisfied in Christ’s death, he actually says that we will be saved from God’s wrath by Jesus’ *life*. Here’s v10: ‘For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.’ (In v9 it is clear that it is God’s wrath we are saved from.)

      Hardly a solid basis for ideas of wrath satisfaction. And there really is nothing else.

      • David Shepherd April 17, 2017 at 12:30 pm #

        Hi Will,

        While I understand something of the point which you’re trying to make, I think that it’s worth distinguishing wrath, as it is being presently and continuously revealed (Rom. 1:18) from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10). the latter is the eventual, ultimate consequence of impenitence for anyone who persists in spurning those alarms of conscience which would precipitate repentance.

        Your quote from Rom. 5:10 refers firstly to deliverance from wrath in present tense (‘we were reconciled to God’) and then onwards to future deliverance from the wrath to come (‘we will be saved by His life’)

        God’s satisfaction of His own wrath against sin through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the basis of His provision for our future deliverance in the resurrection.

        Wrath satisfaction simply provides the ground for this culmination which ultimately effects our complete deliverance (the glorious elevation of our souls and resurrection of the body) in escaping from the wrath to come.

        There is no contradiction.

        • Will Jones April 17, 2017 at 8:38 pm #

          Hi David (again!)

          Yes I appreciate there is no contradiction. And I too understand Jesus’ death to be a propitiation. The point I was making here was that the only time Paul mentions God’s wrath in connection with Jesus’ death it is in no way an image of it being satisfied in Jesus’ suffering. I was illustrating how the idea that Jesus’ suffering and death was a satisfaction God’s wrath was so far from the apostle’s mind that on the one occasion he mentions wrath in connection with Jesus’ death he says something so unlike wrath satisfaction that it can’t possibly be understood as the idea he is working with or trying to communicate. Sure, that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. But it is hardly supporting evidence – particularly when you remember that it is the only time the Bible mentions wrath in connection with Jesus’ death.

          The simple question is: given all the ways the Bible describes Jesus’ death, why are evangelicals of all people so attached to one which it doesn’t use or even imply?

  13. Don Benson April 16, 2017 at 8:20 pm #

    Most of us who are parents know that we can experience real anger at an episode of our child’s bad behaviour while continuing to have an achingly intense love for him or her at the same time. In fact it can be the love, which naturally involves the greatest of hopes for our child’s future, that moves us to the deepest disappointment when destructive behaviour calls that future into question. And the anger we feel and express can be both an appropriate reaction as well as a means of conveying an important message to the child. Thus, all at one time, we are feeling love, disappointment and anger as well as having to work out the most effective way of dealing with our child – who’d be a parent!

    Stuart Townend’s lyric is not necessarily wrong to talk of the ‘wrath’ of God but he implies that it is the wrath which is the problem: ‘God’s in a devastating strop and needs to be calmed down so, guess what, he has his son crucified and now he’s satisfied and we’re all friends again.’ (no flippancy intended) Yet God’s wrath is righteous and it demonstrates the depth of his love – if he didn’t care he wouldn’t feel that kind of anger. The real problem is not his wrath, it’s our bad behaviour (sin) and until that is solved our relationship with God is broken beyond repair and God can never be relaxed with that.

    But there is mystery in exactly how and why the events at Calvary are able to restore relationships between us sinners and the Lord of all. Indeed the whole concept of sacrifice is as mysterious as it is distasteful. Why should an omnipotent God ‘need’ to extract some sort of brutal payment in that way and why should it be enough? Surely he could come up with a less primitive solution? Those of us with a more scientific mind like to be rational and we get frustrated when we cannot understand how things work. But here we just need to accept in faith as much as the Bible tells us (and not add to it!).

    We can view the cross of Christ as a mysterious mechanistic way of removing the penalty for sin (which is death) from people who believe in what he has done for them; or we can view it as the only gesture large enough to demonstrate the awfulness of sin so that people will repent and be saved. Either way the cost to God himself is beyond our imagining. But the final judgement suggests that how we have lived reflects what we have believed; and that reminds us that faith without works is dead – so whatever we sing about God’s wrath we are in no position to assume there’s nothing left for us to do in terms of how we live; our certainty should never be smug.

    Apologies if others have already said similar things – these were just initial and general thoughts.

    • Will Jones April 16, 2017 at 9:39 pm #

      Fantastic comment, Don. I completely agree.

      My own view is that the reason why God deemed Jesus’ sacrifice to be the requisite sacrifice of atonement, besides its surpassing value of course, is linked to the fact that it is precisely by sharing in Christ’s sufferings and death that we come to share in his glory, and thus to share his risen life – which is what Romans 6 is all about. We are united to Christ through faith, and since Christ died but was raised to life, in him death is no longer for us the wages of sin, and the end of the road, but the gateway to life with him and glory. That’s what Christ achieved in his incarnation, death and resurrection, and that’s the new creation we come to share in through faith and baptism. Happy Easter!

  14. David Taylor April 16, 2017 at 10:12 pm #

    Has anyone asked Stuart Townend what he meant when he wrote the line?

  15. Wyn April 17, 2017 at 5:30 pm #

    Ian, as you know we often cross ideas …but on this one I want to say “thank you” and “yes, you’ve given a cogent and useful survey of satisfaction and wrath”. I’ve haven’t ploughed through the comments but I’m guessing you won’t be popular everywhere. Cheers!

  16. David Shepherd April 19, 2017 at 8:19 am #

    This 2005 paper, Judtice, Law and Guilt, written by Garry J. Williams for the Evangelical Alliance Sympisium on Penal Substitution is an exceptionally good at articulating this doctrine and answering the chief criticisms.

    http://www.oakhill.ac.uk/commentary/reading/pdfs/garry_williams.pdf

  17. Philip Almond April 19, 2017 at 6:28 pm #

    I am aware of two threads on Ian Paul’s site which debate and disagree about the atonement:

    On the cross when Jesus died, was ‘the wrath of God satisfied’? (call this thread 1)
    https://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/on-the-cross-when-jesus-died-was-the-wrath-of-god-satisfied/comment-page-3/#comments

    Did Jesus die to ‘satisfy God’s wrath’? (call this thread 2)

    The arguments and counter-arguments on these two threads are crying out for a careful analysis. I am still involved in a debate with Will Jones and I want to comment on some of Ian Paul’s posts.

    In my post Philip Almond March 7, 2017 at 4:43 pm on thread 1, after some preliminary interaction with Will Jones and Oliver Harrison, I set out my case that Christ did bear the wrath and condemnation of God in his death.
    At the beginning of that post I set out ‘assumed common ground’ between Will, Oliver and me. If I have understood them aright they did confirm that this is common ground. I thought it might be useful if I stated this common ground and invited Ian Paul and anyone else to say whether it is common ground for him or not. Because if it is not common ground, then that has a big bearing on the debate about the atonement. I apologise to Ian if he has already made his position clear. But rather than having to search through his posts I hope he will be willing to restate it in response to this post. I stress that I am not trying to beg the question in this assumed common ground.

    Assumed Common Ground
    1 We all personally face God’s holy anger and just condemnation from birth onwards.
    2 What happens to the unsaved after the Day of Judgment is active punishment from God, specific, personal and individual, and in accordance with sinfulness.
    3 John 3:36 puts two truths beyond dispute. Firstly that those who disobey the Son will not see life but, rather, the anger of God remains on them; secondly, that those who believe on the Son have life eternal and, by implication, that they are delivered from the anger of God.
    4 Romans 8:1 also puts two truths beyond dispute. Firstly that there is no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus; secondly that those not in Christ Jesus are still facing condemnation.
    5 So those who believe on the Son, those who are in Christ Jesus, are delivered from the anger and condemnation of God and the punishment that awaits the unsaved and are brought into a right relationship with him. Those in a right relationship with God, at peace with God and adopted as sons, cannot still be facing his anger and condemnation. It is clear from the New Testament that the death and resurrection of Christ play a key part in bringing sinners into this right relationship and therefore the death and resurrection of Christ play a key part in delivering sinners from the anger and condemnation of God.

    Phil Almond

    • Will Jones April 20, 2017 at 5:14 pm #

      Hi Phil

      Was wondering where you’d got to!

      Ian hasn’t participated in this thread so far so you may not get a response to your question, but who knows…

      For my part I can re-affirm that I accept those claims.

      Perhaps it would help if I set out my chief objections to the idea of punishment transfer and wrath satisfaction.

      I am objecting to one thing and one thing only: the idea that in order to spare us punishment God has been obliged, by justice, to punish himself in the person of his Son. I take this to be equivalent to the idea that God has satisfied his wrath or anger by pouring it out on his Son (i.e. on himself). I call this punishment transfer or wrath satisfaction theory, and take the two to be equivalent. This is what I understand to be the penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) theory which defenders are seeking to uphold.

      I am not objecting to the idea that humanity is subject to God’s wrath and punishment, and that Jesus had to die in order to shed his blood in a sacrifice of atonement or redemption which would take away God’s wrath from those who are, by faith, found in Christ Jesus. This I take to be incontrovertible. I also would not object to the claim that in doing this Christ provided satisfaction for sin (understood in terms of a satisfactory sin offering) or assuaged God’s wrath (understood in terms of taking it away). I object only to the idea that this was achieved by God punishing Jesus by transferring our punishment to him, and thereby satisfying his wrath by pouring it out on him.

      I object to this idea on moral grounds and on scriptural grounds.

      On moral grounds I object that it is any satisfaction of justice for God to punish himself in the Person of his Son. I object to the idea that justice can ever be satisfied by the punishment of the innocent, even if willing, or the punishment of oneself in place of the guilty. This is not a model of justice that we would endorse for society, and it is not a concept of justice that we can recognise for God. We would not deem it just to punish willing and innocent people instead of the guilty, and so cannot recognise it as justice when God does it to himself. This is my moral objection: that punishing oneself, or the innocent, in place of the guilty cannot satisfy justice.

      By contrast, the idea of a sacrifice of atonement in place of punishment, as used in the Law, is morally unproblematic. There is no moral difficulty in the idea that a suitable sacrifice (or payment, to use redemption imagery) may, particularly when accompanied by repentance and pledge of amendment of life, remove the guilt of an offence and the need for punishment. We use such ideas in our legal system, for example, when we allow sentences to be commuted into fines or replace prosecutions with requirements to attend educational courses. Thus there are no similar moral objections to the idea of a sacrifice of atonement, or sin offering, or redemption.

      On scriptural grounds I object that the idea that Jesus is being punished by God or is subject to God’s wrath is not found in the New Testament. The only place where it is stated that a messianic figure will be punished is in the prophecy in Isaiah 53. In the light of that statement not being repeated in the New Testament, I suggest that it is to be understood, like some other aspects of that prophecy, poetically, as a poetic way of describing a sin offering or sacrifice of atonement (terms the NT does use). Just as Jesus did not literally carry our diseases or suffer with infirmity to do so, neither was he literally punished by God; it is a figure of speech, like saying that some hardship was punishing. The reality, presented clearly in the New Testament, and drawing on prophetic imagery from both law and prophets, is that God presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement, a redemption by his blood. Thus while he willed him to die, and was the agent of it (he ‘struck’ the shepherd, gave him the ‘cup’), he was not punishing him or pouring out his wrath on him in order to satisfy it. He was putting him forward as a sacrifice of atonement, or sin offering, or redemption.

      In terms of why God is pleased to accept Christ’s sacrifice as a sin offering for the sins of the world, I would say that that is up to him, though he has made it clear that a blood sacrifice is required, since blood signifies life. However, I imagine it has a lot to do with the fact that in making this sacrifice Christ also brought about the undoing of the curse under which God has placed humanity, by fulfilling the law and overcoming death, and thereby inaugurating the new creation.

      • David Shepherd April 20, 2017 at 7:17 pm #

        Hi Will,

        I indicated in an earlier comment that my position was tempered by Paul’s deployment of the Greek concept of dikaionsunes (i.e. righteousness).

        And the more that I’ve reflected on our differing understandings, the more I’m inclined to apply this concept of dikaionsunes to resolve them.

        I am repeating in full here my comment about dikaiosunes from another thread because any discussion of the NT understanding of atonement must qualified by what its writers really meant by this term.

        ‘The real problem here is discovering exactly what Paul meant by righteousness. Certainly, ‘diikaiosunes’ is not focused on virtue (arete), but on avoiding offence and according due honour to God.

        So, Cornelius and other NT characters were considered righteous because their intentions and gestures, however imperfect, expressed a heartfelt intention to honour to God. God’s response was to send His servants to help them along that path.

        Righteousness of faith is as Paul explained to Felix: ‘So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man. While desirable, that resolve to avoid offence and to show God reverence doesn’t amount to merit.

        In the parable which Ian mentions, behind the Pharisee’s self-flattery was the sin of presumption. It is this self-affirming presumption which Paul probes so sharply in Romans 2.

        As I’ve stated before, I would really recommend reading Eric A. Havelock’s ‘The Greek Concept of Justice’.
        He writes of Homer’s Odyssey and Ilead:

        ‘Both epics, however, are very far from identifying “justice” as a principle with a priori foundations, whether conceived as the necessary “rule of law” or as a moral sense in man. These “justices” administered in the plural by kings (archaistically) or by magistrates (realistically) are processes not principles, solving specifics, not applying general laws; they express themselves in negotiated settlement of rival claims. They operate to restore proprieties in human relationships’

        That last sentence is very significant to the NT. As an example of dikaiosunes, Havelock describes King Menelaus’ grievance with Antilochus’ obstructive cornering in the chariot race at the Funeral Games (Ilead book 23). After the race, Menelaus demands that Antilochus should declare under oath that he did not race obstructively.

        Antilochus promptly declines to make such an oath, but in seeking reconciliation, admits that his youthful impetuosity was the cause of his audacious and dangerous manoeuvre. As a conciliatory gesture, he offers the prize for second place (a mare) to Menelaus.

        In the same spirit of reconciliation and with his honour restored, Menelaus graciously returns the horse to Antilochus, thereby concluding the dispute. He says: ‘so all may know my heart is never over-proud or unyielding’.

        Instead of relying on self-exoneration, Antilochus simply relied on Menelaus’ to exercise leniency. It was a righteousness of faith.

        Dikaiosunes is not an exercise in averting a judge’s criminal penalty, but in dissipating grievance by publicly mediating the dishonour and injury caused, instead of allowing it to be ignored or trivialised.

        The cross of Christ is the horrific reminder that, despite God’s desire to forgive, offense against God is neither ignored or trivialised. In fact, grace should teach us: ‘to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, (Titus 2:12)

        So, no, it is not by any formulaic legal equivalence that wrath is satisfied, but by God’s freely exercised prerogative before all worlds (the righteousness of God) that Christ was promised, called upon to serve our dire need and was offered to endure the curse of the law, thereby becoming the remedy for dissipating His wrath towards sin.

        Nevertheless, Christ was made ‘under the law’ and our Father foreknew and His self-donation streamed forth through the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit to endure voluntarily and innocently the ignominious fate which God promised should befall those who were cursed by His law.

        In willingly enduring the curse of God’s law, Jesus was truly smitten by God’s sword of wrath.

        • Will Jones April 20, 2017 at 10:10 pm #

          Hi David

          This sounds like an endorsement of a ‘public statement’ model rather than a penal model. Particularly as you seem to deny the role of a judicial or legal penalty, and speak instead of a dissipation of public grievance. I’m not sure this is the PSA theory I am disputing – it doesn’t seem to place any weight on the idea that Jesus was being punished, or that our punishment had been transferred to him because it ‘had to go somewhere’.

          I agree that Christ endured ‘voluntarily and innocently the ignominious fate which God promised should befall those who were cursed by His law.’ I just don’t think it was in order to ‘dissipate’ God’s wrath (which isn’t a term used in scripture in relation to this.) I think it was to provide an atoning sacrifice by his blood (and also to undo the curse and inaugurate the new creation). Does Christ’s death ‘dissipate’ God’s wrath? It certainly takes it away. But I don’t quite understand what you mean by ‘dissipating grievance by publicly mediating the dishonour and injury caused, instead of allowing it to be ignored or trivialised.’ This sounds like a subjective phenomenon – ensure people know it’s serious and can see it’s been taken seriously. Which is true. But what’s the objective dimension to it? Isn’t it the basic truth of the power of blood sacrifice to cover sin, because, as you have pointed out, blood signifies life?

          In terms of the Greek concept of justice: in Platonic and Stoic philosophy, by which the NT is heavily influenced of course (e.g. Logos), justice is a virtue, and is about right ordering and rendering as due. In the NT righteousness surely often refers to living rightly e.g. Romans 6:13 etc.

      • Philip Almond April 20, 2017 at 7:43 pm #

        Hi Will
        I do intend to reply to your last post on the other thread and your posts on this thread. I just want to leave time for Ian to reply to my last post about common ground. Speaking candidly I do not think he will agree that what I said is common ground, but he may correct me on that. I have replied to Oliver on the other thread but he may choose not to read it or reply to it in the light of his last post there. thank you for confirming that what I posted is common ground between us. I have tried to post on Derek’s site but I am not sure if it has been accepted. This is what I posted:

        “This is our acquittal: the guilt that held us liable for punishment has been transferred to the head of the Son of God (Is. 53:12). We must, above all, remember this substitution, lest we tremble and remain anxious throughout life — as if God’s righteous vengeance, which the Son of God has taken upon himself, still hung over us.
        Inst. II.xvi.5.

        Derek – the above is a quote from Calvin in an article by Paul Helm. Setting it alongside the quote from Calvin you give in your article:

        Yet we do not suggest that God was ever inimical or angry toward [Jesus]. How could he be angry toward his beloved Son, “in whom his heart reposed” [cf. Matt. 3:17]? How could Christ by his intercession appease the Father toward others, if he were himself hateful to God? This is what we are saying: he bore the weight of divine severity, since he was “stricken and afflicted” [cf. Isa. 53:5] by God’s hand, and experienced all the signs of a wrathful and avenging God. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.xvi.11)

        and alongside your point about the importance of the Two Natures of Christ prompts some questions as we all seek to be faithful to what the Bible says and avoid caricatures, distortions etc. of the doctrine – saying all that is revealed but not trying to untangle mysteries that are not revealed. If Christ bore the penal judgment of God in his human nature (if I am understanding you correctly) was it the penal judgment of the Triune God or only of the Father? (I am inclined to think the former). Where does that leave the Calvin quote you give? In fact, what did Calvin mean? How could God never be angry towards Jesus and yet Jesus bore the weight of divine severity and experienced all the signs of a wrathful and avenging God? ‘All the signs’? What did Calvin mean? Obviously Romans 8:3 is a key verse: ‘…condemned sin in the flesh…’. In my view that must be the flesh of Jesus. Tom Wright in ‘Caricatures’ says, ‘ What does he (Jeffrey John) make of the explicit statement – this, I think, is as clear as it gets in Paul – in Romans 8.3, where Paul says explicitly that God condemned sin in the flesh of Jesus Christ? Paul does not say that God condemned Jesus; rather, that he condemned sin; but the place where sin was condemned was precisely in the flesh of Jesus…’. Should we be saying that God (or the Father?) condemned sin in the flesh of Jesus without being angry or condemning Jesus and admitting that how this can be is an unrevealed mystery?
        Ian Paul in the website I mentioned says
        ‘I am not quite as convinced as Derek that, for example, having a developed understanding of the ‘two natures’ of Jesus will help us out of this. In the end, the idea that God himself becomes part of our world, and out of his love for us takes on the very sin which has separated, alienated and enslaved us, is a mind-boggling mystery. That does not mean we shouldn’t speak of it, still less that we shouldn’t preach on it (on Good Friday of all days, as some have suggested!). But it does mean that we should be careful to deploy the language and metaphors that we find in the New Testament—and ‘satisfying God’s wrath’ isn’t part of it.’
        I think that Ian also rejects penal substitutionary atonement, judging by all his posts on this thread.”

        • Will Jones April 21, 2017 at 2:56 pm #

          Thanks Phil. I think Calvin means that Christ took upon himself the ‘guilt’ of sin and also the consequences of God’s wrath (‘righteous vengeance’) but without it requiring God to be angry with him or hostile towards him. To me (and I appreciate this is a gloss) this is an image of a dispassionate discharging of consequences – the ‘righteous vengeance’ being delivered but without feeling (anger/wrath), the ‘signs’ of a wrathful and avenging God, but not actually a wrathful and avenging God, at least not towards Christ. The picture therefore sees guilt transferred to ‘the head of the Son of God’ (interestingly scripture nowhere says that guilt is transferred to Christ, but anyway), but that transfer isn’t such as to mean God actually becomes wrathful or hostile to Christ. Nevertheless, he discharges his ‘righteous vengeance’ and all the ‘signs’ of wrath on Christ. Thus our guilt and punishment is taken away, but without God actually becoming angry with or hostile to Christ. Since Calvin regards the guilt as holding us ‘liable for punishment’ and this was transferred to Christ he presumably regards Christ as thereby becoming liable for punishment, and thus as being punished by God – though he doesn’t say so (at least not in this excerpt) so perhaps he would just see God as giving the ‘signs’ of punishing Jesus without actually doing so.

          Personally of course I don’t buy in to this picture. It’s interesting that Tom Wright regards Romans 8:3 as the main reference for this idea, since (as you know) I don’t think the ‘flesh’ in which sin is condemned there is the flesh of Jesus.

          • Dale M April 27, 2017 at 9:43 pm #

            The “Sword” of Zechariah 13 can be interpreted very differently, resulting in a completely different synthesis of ideas, and a very different view of God’s character, methods and agenda. See Matt. 10:34 and then its parallel in Luke 12:51. The sword symbolized spiritual division. We can easily see how this fomented in the hearts of those who crucified Christ.

            Further, I would recommend viewing Young’s Literal Translation in regards to Zechariah 13. The concept is that rather than God “stretching forth his hand” (the usual idiom of divine action) God does the opposite–he puts back his hand. Perhaps this is indicating that God’s impulse, at the time of the Cross, would be to save his son from persecution and death, but that instead, He would allow it, for redemptive purposes. The rest of the verse can be interpreted as the eventual consequence of Israel’s sin, in that 2/3 were killed… yet not by God’s direct hand and not immediately. It occurred by the hands of the Romans around 65 AD.

            Thirdly, no discussion of Atonement should fail to mention Hebrews 2:17 which is linked to verse 14!!! An ideological war was being fought and won at the Cross and the enemy was Satan, “the accuser of the brethren”, not God or “God’s wrath”. Nowhere in the Bible do we read that God wishes to accuse the brethren, nor to punish then, nor to kill then, etc. It is the “roaring lion who goes about seeking to destroy” who needed his mouth to be shut. It was Satan who demanded a ransom–only he is an extortioner. God does not operate that way.

  18. Philip Almond May 3, 2017 at 8:13 am #

    Dale
    I am not grasping your whole point of view. What is your view of original sin and whether you agree that as a result of Adam’s sin we all face the wrath and condemnation of God?
    Phil Almond

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