‘On the cross, when Jesus died’ was the ‘wrath of God satisfied’?

‘In Christ Alone’ by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty is one of the most popular ‘modern hymns’, and will no doubt be sung aplenty in this Easter season. I have been especially enjoying their continued output over the last couple of years; the musical interest combined with substantial, theological lyrics are just what many churches need in their sung worship. But because they do make theological claims, these sometimes provoke controversy. In 2013, the Presbyterian Church (USA) decided to drop this 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, and the issue continues to provoke intense discussion. 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. It is also worth noting the danger of the argument ‘If you reject the phrase “the wrath of God is satisfied” are you suggesting Jesus’ death was not enough to satisfy God’s wrath?’ It is the question, not the answer, that I am rejecting. Jesus’ death is enough; but ‘satisfaction of God’s wrath’ is not language the NT would recognise.

The real danger in talking of Jesus satisfying God’s wrath is that we separate the actions of the Trinity at 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 we must immediately recognise 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), started the recreation of humanity (Romans and 1 Cor) and reconciled the world to himself (2 Cor 5).

I have argued elsewhere that ‘reconciliation’ actually sits at the centre of Paul’s theological understanding of what God has done for us in Jesus. The late Tom Smail explored 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 an earlier online discussion, one contributor expressed a view I have come across often, in objection to changing the words of this hymn:

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.

This is a pretty remarkable claim: 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, and to whom we find faithful testimony in the Scriptures. 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 (or only) 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 (comparatively minor) 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.

Some time after first posting this discussion, I read a very good piece on The Gospel Coalition blog by Derek Rishmawy. 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, and is speaking to an audience who would agree with that, 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).

On this last point, in a 2008 comment Steve Holmes questions the linking of ‘wrath’ with ‘satisfaction’, and even the connection between ideas of God’s wrath and any understanding of ‘penal substitution’:

If I had any idea what it meant, I could come to a theological judgement about it, but as written, it verges on nonsense. I can see no meaning of the two words ‘wrath’ and ‘satisfy’ that allows them to be combined like this – and that is not a theological judgement, it is a grammatical one, informed by nothing more (and nothing less) than the OED.

To ‘satisfy,’ I discover there, has several meanings. They cluster around the sense of an obligation being fulfilled. Thus, in atonement theology, we speak of Christ making satisfaction in terms of paying a debt, or suffering a required penalty, and so justice is satisfied. ‘Wrath,’ however, cannot be construed as an obligation; it is an attitude. As such, wrath might be appeased or averted or mollified or changed – the former pair being more theologically interesting than the latter pair – it cannot be satisfied in any meaningful sense of that term.

Of course, we might claim with sense ‘At the cross, God’s justice was satisfied, and so God’s wrath was averted.’ That may or may not be good theology, but it at least means something. But ‘wrath’ cannot be ‘satisfied,’ if the two words retain any recongisable meaning…

It seems to me clear that belief in God’s wrath, and belief in penal substitution, are logically distinct ideas, with no mutual entailment. This simple point has been missed on both sides of the debate, and much confusion has arisen as a result. God may be full of wrath towards sinners until atonement is made, but that atonement be made in a hundred non-penal ways.

The delinking of wrath and substitution here is really helpful and important.

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.

(Previous, shorter versions posted in 2013 and 2017.)

Looking ahead to Easter Sunday, join our discussion about John 20 and the resurrection:

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258 thoughts on “‘On the cross, when Jesus died’ was the ‘wrath of God satisfied’?”

  1. Very much agree with the central point. I suspect the language of “satisfying God’s wrath” and the way that it plays into a particular understanding of penal substitution (one which dominates and controls all other interpretations of the meaning of the atonement) serves as more of a cultural marker than anything else. We’re “one of these people”, not “one of those people”.

    I’d add that I take the central, underlying atonement motif of the new testament to be a cosmic understanding of the atonement. Namely, that in his death Jesus put an end to the old creation, the world of sin, the flesh and evil spiritual powers and that in his resurrection he establishes a new creation, a kingdom of righteousness, the Spirit and a renewed humanity in Christ. The primary focus in the Gospels is to unpack this in relation to the Jewish system of Law, which Jesus transforms and fulfils, but in Paul’s writings it is applied more broadly to the Gentile world as well.

    • How did he righteously transfer people from the old creation of sin and death under wrath into the new creation of life and righteousness ? How central is this to biblical soteriology?

    • Chris

      I agree with your cosmic understanding of the atonement though as in an already made comment I ask how this renewal is possible. However, Supposing I said that the cosmic aspects of the atonement are at best incidental and just a cultural marker ‘I’m one of these people’ etc. We really ought not to make a fuss. Would you agree. Or would the issue become not a cultural marker but a core truth to be defended.

      I think your far too dismissive of truths that have been held by evangelicals over many centuries from a wide variety of backgrounds and countries; it is a bit more than a cultural marker.

      • Hi John,

        Apologies, I didn’t see your comment until just now.

        I agree with penal substitution, so I’m not dismissing its truth in any way. I’m also a conservative evangelical who is a member of an FIEC church, so please take this as an ‘in-house’ criticism of sorts.

        What I’m criticising is the caricature of the penal substitutionary view which sees everything in terms of a broken relationship within the Trinity, with the Father wrathful towards the Son. This approach is impossible, since the divine Persons are not ‘parts’ which can be separated from one another, but rather the Son indwells the Father and vice versa.

        There’s also this notion which often goes along with the first view that penal substitution is a ‘central’ model of the atonement which underlies and controls all other models. I think this view ends up distorting many of the biblical passages on the atonement and sidelines certain important aspects, such as the bringing together of Jew and Gentile into one people in Christ (an important theme in the new testament).

        The reason why I would say that the popular caricature of penal substitution I’ve outlined above has become a ‘cultural marker’ and not, say, my own view that cosmic atonement is central has to do with the community’s stance towards it. If someone were to say “I don’t think the cosmic view is a central view in the new testament, I just think it’s one perspective which requires some nuance” or whatever, then I doubt there would be hordes of people strongly objecting to said view/person. But conservative evangelicals can often be very touchy about their particular brand of penal substitution. To me, that suggests that there is a taboo involved, a cultural boundary which must not be transgressed.

        I would have no problem with such a taboo if it were applied to a doctrine as central to the historic Christian faith as the deity of Christ, for instance. But it isn’t.

        • Hi Chris

          I’m a friend of Andrew Hunter who is an FIEC representative in Scotland. I recognise that there is room for shades of meaning. I agree about disruptions within the trinity but want to preserve forsakenness. Some of these questions are not so easy.

  2. On the issue of copyright… Charles Wesley originally wrote “Hark how all the welkin rings!” Minor changes to hymns are a traditional part of their settling down into cherished church culture.

    • Minor changes to hymns which are more than 100 years old are also a way by which unscrupulous persons can make money from copyright without any effort or talent.

    • I agree Penelope if when you say that you are referring to making songs compatible with the passing of time.

      I am a songwriter – I won’t mind if people change my lyrics when I’m dead (this presumes two things that aren’t the case yet – my death – and anyone being interested in my songs after I’m dead) but I certainly don’t want people to make changes when I am alive (except in order to perhaps translate my song into another language – but then I’d like to think that the person doing the work was musical and lyrical!).

      The only other reason to change the lyrics of my songs is where they aren’t very good. But I’d still rather make that decision myself!

  3. Ian, on your point about wrath in the New Testament, the distinction between attitude and feeling arises because in larger biblical terms “wrath” is always an event, typically experienced as a military or natural disaster, that comes upon a people because of defiance of God. To focus the term entirely on something internal to God, therefore, seems to me unhelpful. So if wrath is an attitude, it is an attitude of God—or of the Lamb, for that matter (cf. Rev. 6:16)—that initiates or is expressed in a set of historical circumstances.

    But then it is not so obvious to me that the “wrath of God” in Romans 5:9 is a reference to the final judgment. I don’t see why Paul shouldn’t be thinking here of an event or events from which first the Jew and then the Greek (not humanity) will need to be saved—Roman invasion and obsolescence, on the one hand, judgment on the pagan world, on the other (cf. 1 Thess. 1:9-10). This is precisely the point of the appeal to Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans 1:16-17: wrath against unrighteous Israel followed by wrath against the even more unrighteous opponent of Israel.

    Also, a detail, Jesus tells parables in which a king or master of a house gets angry (verb) and punishes a wicked servant or disloyal wedding guests: “And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matt. 18:34–35; cf. Matt. 22:7; Lk. 14:21).

    • But then it is not so obvious to me that the “wrath of God” in Romans 5:9 is a reference to the final judgment.

      Perhaps this applies particularly as ‘of God’ is not in the Greek!

        • It is a particular problem with the ESV. At key points, they really want to tell you how to interpret the Bible—so they tweak the text…!!

          Neither ESV nor (surprisingly) NET Bible have a note saying that the word ‘symbol of’ is not in the Greek in 1 Cor 11.10. The woman ought to ‘have authority’ over her own head.

          • Im confused – the NIV has ‘God’s wrath’. Are you saying this is incorrect and the Greek doesnt say this? If not then what is the difference between the wrath of God and God’s wrath?

            I would also point out that even if ‘God’ is removed, it is still apparent it is His wrath!


          • “the problem with the ESV”
            As PCI points out, the NIV has exactly the same problem. Furthermore, with respect to I Cor 11:10 : first, the NIV replaces “symbol of” with “sign of”. But secondly (and more to the point) neither version employs “over” but “on” – and I am at a loss to find any reference (including the Greek) to the word *own*, The omission of this can radically change the meaning of the text!

      • Correct: “of God” was added later as an “understood” which is noted in many, but not all Bibles and absolutely shouldn’t be there because it’s not in the original Septuagint.

      • Re Romans 5:10 ” It is not so obvious to me that the ‘wrath of God’ is a reference to final judgment”. If you base this observation on the latter part of the verse alone, the you could be right. However , as NT Wright so often points out justification, even though realized in the present, is founded on God’s judgement on the last day. [ See Romans 2; 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10]

    • Indeed, are we really to believe that God never gets angry? Jesus clearly got angry on occasion, was that just down to his humanity? I doubt it.

      As you say, it seems pretty odd of Jesus to use a parable to illustrate God’s feelings and actions towards certain people due to their behaviour if in reality such feelings dont exist.

      • Hi Peter,

        I like what you are saying here. Jesus reveals his hatred of wickedness – why then is the bible silent on the father’s feelings towards the sin placed on Jesus?

        I hope you will read my long comment below which starts with the words “Sorry to write so much but I feel strongly about this area” in which I attempt to explain why scripture is silent on this question even as scripture makes clear that the cross satisfies God’s justice.


    • Yes I think Paul may have been thinking of temporal judgement as well as the final one. Did not Ananias and his wife not suffer God’s judgement and/or wrath? Was not the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem a consequence of Israel’s rejection of her Messiah?

      Per Revelation, did Jesus not warn He would be ‘coming’ in judgement if some of those churches did not change their ways? There is no indication that He was going to wait until the final judgement!


      • Yes. Perhaps we are already in “the day of the Lord”. Judgement is already happening on “the Lord’s Day.”
        Amidst Judgement there is mercy. SO, come to terms with the magistrate, even as you are being dragged off to court”

  4. Re Isaiah 53: While it is true that parts of that chapter do indeed seem to be about someone who is punished on behalf of or in place of others, the New Testament’s use of various verses from Isaiah 53 is very careful (one might even say selective) and never even comes close to implying that this was the case with Christ. In fact, it’s striking just how careful the New Testament writers (John, Paul, Matthew, Luke and Peter) are in their use of Isaiah 53, given how extensively they refer to it. They never even quote the `punishment’ texts, much less apply them to the cross. And if they (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) didn’t, then perhaps we ought not either. The New Testament writers clearly knew the `punishment’ parts of Isaiah 53 (verses 4b, 5, 6 & 10) and they knew of the crucifixion, yet they never make any connection between the two. In fact, those verses are delicately danced around, with the verses either side of them being quoted in full. There is a marked refusal to cite the verses about him being punished for us. It is a bit ironic that the book’s title comes from a verse that is never quoted in the New Testament! (Look to Jonah or Job or even Samson as better models of redemptive suffering.)

    Being generous, Isaiah 53:6 is strongly alluded to in 1 Peter 2:24-25 but without the bit about the Lord laying on him the iniquity of us all – i.e. without any hint of punishment. Rather, it is reworked as Christ taking upon himself the iniquity of us all. Notice the difference: no one lays anything on him; he takes it upon himself. That is a small but very significant detail that changes everything: here, Christ is not the one on whom God lays the sin of the world. Rather, Christ is God taking (and taking away) all our sin.

    It’s always disappointing when evangelicals go outside (usually beyond) what scripture actually says. Liberals can appeal to reason and Catholics to the church but evangelicals are bound by what scripture says: no more and no less. And scripture never says Jesus was punished (which is one step beyond what the Bible actually says), nor does it say that Jesus bore the wrath of God (which is the step after that). You can quote certain OT texts and apply them to Christ almost endlessly, but if the NT writers (who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and who also knew those texts) didn’t choose them and use them, maybe we shouldn’t either. The authors juxtapose, synthesise and extrapolate from the various verses to make the Bible `support’ unbiblical theses. My Roman Catholic friends do this very well: e.g. (a) Jesus is the King of Heaven (b) Mary is his mother therefore (c) Mary is the Queen of Heaven. Well, it’s a syllogism of sorts but (c) isn’t, strictly speaking, actually what the Bible says. Being generous, we could call (a) and (b) `primary scripture’ (i.e. actual text) and (c) `secondary scripture’ (i.e. inferred from scripture). May I suggest that evangelicals stick to `primary scripture’, (not least lest they end up with Mary as Queen of Heaven!)

    How, then, does God deal with sin? By forgiving it. There are two ways of dealing with sin committed against us. We can forgive the offence or we can punish it. Both of these options are founded on justice, because both admit and acknowledge the offence. For God to forgive does not contradict or undermine his truthfulness, holiness and righteousness. Forgiveness is not the alternative or opposite or absence of justice; it is contingent upon justice, dependent upon moral and ethical framework of right and wrong. Forgiveness does not defy or deny justice but is only possible precisely because of it: after all, if there was no justice there’d be no concept or idea of forgiveness as no law would be broken nor penalty due. Forgiveness is not the same as overlooking or ignoring the offence. That course of action is not open to God, because God is just and righteous (being, of course, the same word in New Testament Greek). And forgiveness is not the soft or easy option: it is extremely expensive to the one who forgives, as the cross supremely demonstrates. Forgiveness means the forgiver pays the price; God does not require the blood of a third party scapegoat, whipping boy or lightning conductor – he gives his own blood.

    Are forgiveness and reconciliation only possible only after wrath has been vented, punishment meted out and/or retribution exacted. Is that what Jesus teaches in the Gospels?

    Take the double imputation in 2 Cor 5:21. Christ bears, takes, even becomes our sin, and we become the righteousness of God. What action and attitude should a holy, truthful and just God (and that includes the Son) take towards that sin? Why, be wrathful towards it and punish it of course! Or forgive it. Does Jesus say `Father, punish me’? No, he says: `Father, forgive them.’ And why is forgiveness explicitly and overtly used by Paul in relation to the cross (e.g. Ephesians 1:7, 4:32; Colossians 1:13, 2:13) but punishment is best only implied (others would say inferred). Is merciful forgiveness only possible once wrath has been vented and punishment meted out? No. In fact forgiveness is the mutually exclusive alternative to wrath and punishment. Hence the cross saves us from God’s holy wrath and the just punishment which we deserve (John 3:36; 1 Thess. 5:9).

    This does not to diminish or downplay the cross. When Jesus (who is God) took our sin he was torn apart from his Father. On the cross Jesus cried out `My God, my God why have you forsaken me’ (Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34). We cannot imagine the pain of that: God ripped apart by my sin. That was the price paid by Christ and the cost borne by God. That is the sacrifice and the substitution which takes away sin. (And sin, of course, is the root cause of God’s wrath and of our punishment.) I find that more humbling and more wonderful than any talk of Christ bearing our punishment or – worse – God’s wrath. It is also more terrifying and terrible: God has no punishment or wrath greater or worse than his absence. (Would you rather your father or friend or lover was angry with you or left you?)

    The message of the cross is that God loves us even more than he loves himself. God loves us, and so came to remove sin and reconcile us to himself at infinite cost to himself. In Christ, God became human to pay humanity’s debt to God: the problem (sin) is all ours (in its cause and effect); the solution is all God’s.

    There are four very simple objections to their view: 1. Jesus, er, IS God and so is therefore just as angered by sin as the Father. We are saved from the wrath of the Lamb by that very same Lamb — the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. 2. Easter. The punishment for sin is hell: everlasting separation from God. But Jesus was raised from the dead and is sitting at the right hand of the Father. Therefore Jesus was not punished for sin, or he’d still be dead. 3. If the cross is a place of punishment and wrath where our participation in it or imitation of it or identification with it? 4. This book’s view of the cross assumes that forgiveness is only possible once retribution (punishment) has been meted out and wrath vented. Not so: punishment and forgiveness are alternatives. Hence Jesus saves from punishment (and the wrath of God) not by taking it for us like an umbrella takes the rain but by dealing with the root cause of it: namely our sin. And how does he deal with sin? By forgiving it.

    Let us say straight away that forgiveness is not the same as overlooking or ignoring the offence. That course of action is not open to God, because God is just and righteous. (Just and righteous are the same word in New Testament Greek, a word meaning “right” – doing the right thing, being made right with someone else, etc.) And that course of action is not open to us. Denying, dismissing or downplaying the offence does not deal with it. We must acknowledge sin – both those we commit and those committed against us. We must own up to it even thought that is a difficult and unpleasant thing to do. And then we must deal with it. There are two ways of dealing with sin committed against us. We can forgive the offence or we can punish it. Both of these options are founded on justice, because both admit and acknowledge the offence. For God to forgive does not contradict or undermine his truthfulness, holiness and righteousness. Forgiveness is not the alternative or opposite or absence of justice; it is contingent upon justice, dependent upon moral and ethical framework of right and wrong. Forgiveness does not defy or deny justice but is only possible precisely because of it: after all, if there was no justice there’d be no concept or idea of forgiveness as no law would be broken nor penalty due. Nor is forgiveness the soft or easy option: it is extremely expensive to the one who forgives, as the cross supremely demonstrates.

    Forgiveness is all over the New Testament, esp. in relation to the cross. Listen up people: God, in and through Christ, FORGIVES us (and calls us to forgive those who sin against us). Yes, there is punishment and wrath for those who don’t accept the free (but very expensive) gift of forgiveness. And that will be the business of Christ’s second coming. But his first coming — and esp. his death — was all about mercy and grace. Take the offer while you can. And pass it on. But let’s not say that God punished Christ in our place on the cross. The Bible doesn’t and neither should we.

    With that in mind, a quote:

    `Forgiveness breaks the chain of causality because he who `forgives’ you – out of love – takes upon himself the consequences of what you have done. Forgiveness, therefore, always entails a sacrifice. The price you must pay for your own liberation through another’s sacrifice is that you in turn must be willing to liberate others in the same way, irrespective of the consequences to yourself.’ (Dag Hammarskjold, Easter 1960 from Markings)

    • I was just going out when I decided to see what’s new in Psephizo. Thanks you Oliver for a very clear outline of what Easter is all about.
      To me Revelation “The bowls of wrath” is like an inside view of The Passion. The Great City is broken in three. On first reading it seems to show the destruction of sinful humanity at the end of time but on reading it again it looks like The Passion from God’s point of view. As if He says “I drank the bowls of wrath for you”.

    • As mentioned on an earlier thread, I think by contrast that the NT writers, in company with Jesus, did make a personal identification between Jesus and the Isaianic servant. His ‘life-story’ (the sequence in which the oracles appear in the text) is by far the main scriptural blueprint of how a budding messiah’s life was to pan out. And the DSS and other evidence show the overwhelming popularity of Isaiah’s text in Jesus’s world.

      That the personal link is not made I find an impossible position. I see it in Mark passim, also 1 Peter, Luke, Paul filling up the sufferings and reference to taking on Jesus’s Isa 49 fulfilment etc..

    • There is a difference, I think, between saying that Jesus was punished and saying that he suffered the impending “punishment” of Israel. Dying on a Roman cross (in place of the insurrectionist Barabbas, note) was exactly what thousands of Jews suffered in the war against Rome, according to Josephus. The distinction is perhaps even evident in Isaiah 53:4-6 in the alternation between the third and first person pronouns.

      • One of the arguments I would forward for both wrath-bearing and penal substitution is that Jesus recapitulates the experience of Israel. The Babylonian and Roman exiles were both penal and involved wrath. I agree he did not suffer the exile they did but he suffered the exile of which Israel’s exiles were types. They were temporal whereas his had eternal implications. Recapitulation argues wrath-bearing punishment.

        • Hi John,

          Why look to history when we have all of scripture to see how God feels about sin?

          I say that the Bible says that God hates evil (Psalm 5:5-6) – and that we should (Romans 12:9) – but that there is nowhere in scripture which says that God hates all sin.

          Do you have any way of establishing from scripture that God hates all sin? Even if you laid out an argument for original sin – or total depravity (you know I don’t believe in those doctrines – search for ‘original sin’ or ‘total depravity’ on this page and you will be reminded of my reasons for why I don’t believe either) that would only prove that God hates sin which is weakness – sin which arises from our inheriting Adam’s tendency to sin due to being his descendants. It wouldn’t establish that God hates all three of the kinds of sin below (I believe scripture shows that he only hates the third):

          – Sin which is weakness (Matt 26:41)
          – Sin which is wilful but ignorant (1 Tim 1:13)
          – Sin which is free, wilful and knowing – evil doing.

          • I am not trying to grind your nose into the dust. I am genuinely interested to see where you draw your conclusions about God’s attitude to sin from scripture (you may for example draw them from places other than where you attempt to establish original sin and total depravity).

            And answering is of course optional…..

    • Oliver Re 2 Corinthians 5:21 you say that “Christ bears , takes, even becomes our sin” —-” I find that the subsequent argument in that paragraph tends to drift too much between punishment and forgiveness, thereby denuding “becomes our sin” of its cutting edge.
      We have already had at least one quote from Calvin:”Yet we do not suggest that God was ever inimical or angry towards Jesus”. {Inst: 2:16: 11}
      However compare with this:” For he (Christ)assumed a manner in our place that he might be a criminal in our room and might be dealt with as a sinner, not for his own offences, but for those of others, inasmuch as he was pure and exempt from every fault, and *might endure the punishment that was due to us* – not to himself “[Commentary on 2nd Corinthians [2 Cor. 5:21].
      Compare with CK Barrett “Christ became sin; that is he came to stand in the relation with God which normally is the result of sin; *estranged from God and the object of his wrath* ! [commentary on 2nd Corinthians].

      • Good points. And maybe (I don’t know) there’s a link there with the impersonal anger in Romans 5:9?

        P.S. I have a real aversion to the phrase “wrath of God” — what’s wrong with “God’s anger”? Simpler construction and the noun (ὀργῆ) is the same whether it’s God’s or anyone else’s.

        • Thanks for that Oliver. Elsewhere in this topic, I have ( in a roundabout fashion) attempted to challenge the assumption that theological words and terms not only require clear definition, it is possibly the case that contemporary interpretations may reveal different understandings from the original. What is even worse is when*any* understanding takes precedence over “my truth” !

        • John You’ve missed the point that I was making. Look at my post above: I actually was defending the use of *wrath*. I wanted to elicit a response from Oliver Harrison re Calvin’s interpretation and that of CK Barrett (particularly the former since he was quoted previously). I was satisfied to the extent that he was happy with God being “angry”. But I have to say perplexed by his “real aversion to the wrath of God”. I sense more than an inconsistency here. Hence my preoccupation to get *behind” words to see how the adherent of a particular interpretation understands a particular term.

    • The reason why we have trouble understanding the Father’s attitude to the sin placed on Jesus is because separate from the cross we aren’t sure about God’s attitude toward sin full stop.

      The working assumption among most evangelicals seems to be that God hates all sin. Where is that stated in scripture? This assumption is strengthened by the wrong doctrine of original sin which implies that even when our sinning is the result of weakness – even when it arises from a tendency to sin which is ours automatically in being descendants of Adam – this is enough to make us objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:2).

      In scripture I see only that God hates evil (Psalm 5:5-6) and so should we (Romans 12:9) – I see nothing that says that God hates all sin. If evil and sin are the same it means that God both loves evil doers (John 3:16) and also hates them (Psalm 5:5-6). I believe that 1 Timothy 1:13 and Genesis 8:21 show that for sin to be evil it must be free, knowing, and wilful. There is other sin – sin which is weakness – and sin which is wilful but ignorant. And I believe that Genesis 8:21 shows that everyone makes a free, knowing and wilful choice to reject God’s love in creation – not because of a tendency to sin arising from God’s making us “in Adam” – but because whilst we are made free God has designed creation so that we are able to influence each other for good or for ill – such that when most people have sinned – and begin to sin against us – it eventually leads us all to sin.

      For a step by step attempt to answer why the Bible reveals that Jesus becomes sin (2 Cor 5:21) – takes our punishment for sin (Isaiah 53:5) – but doesn’t say that God punished Jesus – and doesn’t say what God’s attitude is to that sin – and for my reasoning for why I believe that original sin and total depravity are not proved anywhere in scripture – see my post which starts with the inimitable words:

      “Sorry to write so much but I feel strongly about this area”.

    • You wrote: “Does Jesus say `Father, punish me’? No, he says: `Father, forgive them.’ ” which reminds me of my least favourite part of a Stuart Townend song, which is less talked about that “the wrath of God is satisfied” which is the following from “Love Incarnate”:
      You were lifted on a tree,
      Crying ‘Father God, forgive them,
      Place their punishment on me.’

      Because that is really not what Jesus said on the cross. “they know not what they do” is the correct quote and I’m astounded at an evangelical being this lax about scripture and even more so that the evangelicals in the group I was in when I was introduced to this song (which was in a discussion about theology in hymns we’d sung) couldn’t see my problem with these lines

  5. All these issues were well dealt with by John Stott in ‘The Cross of Christ’, probably his most significant theological book. For example, on the issue of dividing the Trinity, his key text is ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Corinthians 5:19). The copy I have is dated 2006, but I guess the book is still available on Amazon,

    • Thanks Frank – that’s a great verse to show that the Father and Son are working as one in respect of Jesus’ death on the cross.

  6. A helpful exploration of the issues, thank you. However, as a writer, I disagree with your proposed solution to sing the song but change the words. The words are the property of the songwriter, and I would be disturbed if I went to a church where the PowerPoint was up with my song and my name attached to it but with someone else’s words, especially those which completely change my original intention for the song. This is a theft and manipulation.

    For you, it seems a minor change, but the authors may have been making a very deliberate point. If you wrote a song and Anglo-Catholics changed some of the lines to be praising Mary, how would you feel? Or if an interfaith gathering changed the names of God in the hymn to include the Muslim Allah? Or even if someone quoted your words from a theological book but changed a couple of sentences they didn’t like and it still had your name attached? It’s not fair or okay to do this, even if it seems okay for the singer.

    Copyright is not just about recompense or acknowledgement – it’s there specifically so people don’t change the words. Far better and fairer to writers everywhere to have the integrity to ask permission, and if it is not given, not to sing the song. And that is also the legal requirement, which is worth bearing in mind.

    Whenever you next revise this, I’d encourage you to change your suggestion re songs – what you are advocating is neither just nor legal.

    Thanks again for the interesting discussion on this topic.

    • Good points about changing song lyrics.

      I actually wrote a hymn myself:

      At The Cross

      At the cross, at the cross
      See the man who is cursed
      When the all the powers of darkness
      Did their best to do their worst
      And when they were spent
      God still had power to spare
      At the cross, at the cross
      See God take all our sin there

      At the cross, at cross
      See the man who is blessed
      With all the grace of heaven
      With all forgiveness
      God pays himself
      The debt we owe
      It is cancelled, it is finished
      Sin and death are overthrown

      At the dawn near the grave
      See the man live again
      Mercy triumphs over judgement
      God’s King is raised to reign
      Christ lives in us
      And we in him
      He is our strength and our salvation
      And the song that we sing

      At the end of the age
      See the man come again
      To judge the living and the dead
      To burn the dross like a flame
      He’ll make all things new
      Reconciled and restored
      Creation joins the angels
      To proclaim that he is Lord

    • Hi Tanya

      Writing song-words is a very subtle and often long process, as you appreciate. You may struggle for months to find just the right word to seal a particular verse or line, and feel satisfaction when that slot is filled. The people who change the words have never been through even one percent of that creative process and nor do they understand how the diction or wordchoice is all interrelated, and forms a whole. It is good to see how well you appreciate this point.

    • Far better and fairer to writers everywhere to have the integrity to ask permission, and if it is not given, not to sing the song

      Glad someone made this point.

  7. One problem I have with the phrase “the wrath of God was satisfied” is that it has taken the language of satisfaction out of the context of honour and is using it, as a verb, in our modern world which is unrelated. Modern usage of “X was satisfied by Y” gives the idea that X was took pleasure in Y. It seems to me problematic to suggest that God took pleasure in visiting his wrath on Jesus.

    Another interesting point in the relation of ‘satisfaction’ to penal substitution is that, I believe, Anselm in Cur Deus Homo specifically states that satisfaction is not punishment. Because Jesus’ death on the cross was a satisfaction for God’s honour, punishment is not necessary.

      • I think part of satisfaction is the glory that God receives through the cross. Paradoxically in the place where sin is dealt with God (and Christ) is most glorified. All the aspects of who he is are exhibited here in technicolour; love; grace; generosity; wisdom; power; holiness; wrath… and in a way that reveals them in their true light. This is the cross in John’s gospel, i think

  8. I find my brain stretched beyond its limits by this one so am content to go with NT Wright who substitutes ‘love of God’. I am sure his reasons are ‘satisfactory’. It is a terribly complex theological point, and what I can see from my nontheological vantage point is that this issue is often entirely misunderstood.

    People misconstrue it as being about whether wrath is or is not part of the equation.

    And even say ‘I *like* ”love” better’ – I mean, honestly, don’t we all, by definition? Of what relevance is that?

    Wrath is certainly part of the equation.

    The only question here is whether the situation is best expressed by the form of words originally chosen by theologically fairly-competent writers, or whether that can be improved upon.

    • A suggestion Christopher – start by establishing what God’s attitude is to sin in all of scripture. Are there different types of sin? If there are does God hate all types of sin? Where in the Bible does it say that God hates all sin? And then take what you learn to the cross. The cross is God being towards sin how he is towards sin all the time.

      For my attempt to address this see the comment of mine which STARTS with the words “Sorry to write so much but I feel strongly about this area”.

  9. This topic has been debated before on this blog. However, so far,the level of discussion has, in my estimation, been more thoughtful and comprehensive than previously. Nevertheless, I am reminded of some familiar words from * Through the Looking Glass*: ” When I use a word” said Humpty Dumpty in rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean, nothing more nothing less”. “The question is”, said Alice ,”whether you can make words mean so many different things!”
    Humpty’s diatribe re “nothing more nothing less”, somehow reflects the preciseness of the current debate on the words *wrath* and *satisfied*. However, how many of us would subscribe to view that “it means just what I choose it to mean”?
    To some extent, we are here drawing swords in a battle which is esoteric, while paying lip service to the greater conflict that is causing so much division in Western Christianity; a division encapsulated in the words of Alice: “whether you can make words mean so many different things”.
    The key *miscreant* here is *love* and that I suggest includes the expression “the love of God”! I find it fascinating that when the debate centres on love and its cognates, subjectivity(“meaning just what I choose it to mean”)can take over the driving seat and the theological car ultimately ends up spinning out of control.

      • At this level and with specific reference to biblical/theological topics – generally speaking – yes, but with the exception where there is more than a tendency to drift off the subject! However, in relation to contemporary issues? Here it is more Alice in Wonderland!!

  10. Since they refuse to let people sing “love of God is magnified”, I refuse to sing “the Father turned His face away”.

  11. An earlier version of this post is what drew me to your blog 5 years ago. I was Googling for models of the atonement and came across Psephizo. 🙂 Appreciate the expanded content, particularly the delinking of wrath and satisfaction.

    I have found this series on satisfaction quite helpful: https://blogos.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/2021/12/20/recovering-the-classic-concept-of-satisfaction-part-iii/. There are 3 parts, of which this is the third; the other two can be easily found by Google.

    This third article is quite nuanced, so difficult to quote here, but I encourage readers to take a look! The first two articles engage more with historical figures. I recommend starting with this article.

  12. How does the concept of propitiation, which I understand contains the idea of turning away wrath, fit in to this discussion?

    • The idea / doctrine of propitiation is usually derived from the Greek word Hilasmos, and (surprise, surprise) it’s a tricky one. No-one ever seems to cite examples (e.g. Luke 18:13) where it cannot possibly be translated as “propitiate” (although there and elsewhere could be rendered “expiate”). So at best it *might* *sometimes* mean “propitiation” (or it might never mean it at all; and/or it could even refer to the “mercy seat” over the Ark of the Covenant).

      P.S. I don’t normally like to argue by contesting etymology or semantics but in this case (as it all hinges on that one term) I’m afraid it’s necessary. Sorry.

      • Does not the fact that it carries the idea of appeasing wrath of a god outside the NT suggest its use within the NT must involve some correspondence with its understood currency. Further, is not the use of propitiation in Roms 3 the endpoint and resolution to the wrath of God revealed in 1:18

        • Hi John,

          Relating to what Romans 3 is dealing with (and to what God’s wrath is directed towards) what do you understand the following part of Romans 1:21 to mean?

          “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him”.

          Is being born with a tendency to sin from birth “knowing God” – or being alienated from him from the beginning?

          • ‘Knowing God…’ refers to the knowledge of God gained from creation and perhaps an intuitive knowledge of God’. The proof of universal human sinfulness is that while they have this knowledge they turn away from it and create foolish gods. To be born with a sinful nature does not preclude awareness of truth and of right no wrong. It is this knowledge that makes us responsible beings and it is the disregard of it that makes us culpable.

            Benjamin, I don’t know where your view on unfallen humanity comes from. I can think of no mainstream churches with such a historical belief. Even the Roman Catholic Church believes in an inherited sinful nature (though the church fixes this). It is really a straight Pelagian view long since rejected by orthodox Christianity. You reject the evidence of the Scriptures presented which I think are very clear (and obvious many others do to. Furthermore, you must be arguing that although everyone is born sinless in time everyone decides to sin for the Bible universalises sin and the universal statements don’t carry any hint that sinning is a learned behaviour some indeterminate time after birth

            Ecc 9:3 Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.

            Have you any children? Almost from before they can even talk they exert their will in defiance of their parents. When speaking ‘no’ is a quickly learned word. These are not learned responses but instinctive; the sin nature is asserting itself.

          • Hi John,

            I wish to make two points up front.

            You asked me if I had children as part of questioning whether I was familiar with human nature even in young children. My answer is that I am a father – and I am familiar with how children behave. However the Bible is clear that that behaviour is not something for which children are responsible until they know right from wrong (Deut 1:39) – people are only sinful once they have knowledge of right and wrong. The issue is whether the behaviour of children before they reach an age of responsibility reveals a sinful nature they have from birth or is an indication that they have already been influenced by the sin of others so as to be ready to choose evil even if they aren’t responsible for their actions until they reach an age where they know right from wrong. Also we must be careful not to consider the actions of children which are undisciplined as being sinful – a child isn’t sinful for crying for hours on end – a child is not sinful for being grumpy when hungry – because self evidently they don’t yet have the capacity to control themselves – it isn’t a question of their state of heart.

            Secondly an observation – you appear to believe that the key thing to preserving the truth and the heart of the gospel is that those who preach it believe in the inherent fallenness of human beings. But the gospel centres on the glory of God – it doesn’t centre on human sin. This means that one factor which is diminished by debasing human beings – which is relevant to preserving the heart of the gospel – is that the way God designs the world must be seen to be to his credit. I do not see how creation being designed so that we inherent Adam’s guilt (if the idea was ESTABLISHED without doubt anywhere – it isn’t) – this being enough to make us worthy of hell – and then only some of us being enable to “turn to God” – brings honour to God. I don’t see how it heightens his holiness, justice, mercy and grace. It destroys his justice, mercy and grace. God’s honour rests in the fact that he makes a creation which is perfect – a creation where he is not the author of evil – a creation where evil only exists as a result of something made which is good – free will – instead of being specifically made and made by God. A creation which imposes on him the obligation to make fallen human beings as a result of a human choice undermines his creative purity and autonomy over the world.

            Secondly for our rebellion against a good God to have full significance mankind’s rebellion must be the result of a free and knowing choice – only when our sin is of this nature is it at its most serious.

            So for these two reasons I refuse to consider any insult directed towards me – that I am for example a Pelagian – a word which is standing in for reasoning that should exist in its place – is in fact an insult.

            In seeking to explain my views I have referred to the following nineteen passages (some in response to your raising them):

            Psalm 51:5, Romans 5:12, Isaiah 48:8, Psalm 58:3, Romans 1:21, Psalm 5:5-6, Romans 12:9, Matt 26:41, 1 Tim 1:13, John 3:16, Genesis 6:5, Genesis 8:21, Ephesians 2:2, Mark 12:34, 1 John 5:16-17, 2 Thessalonians 1:8, Hebrews 10:29-31, Romans 2:5-11, and Deut 1:39.

            I put it to you that if I am seeking to deceive people that I am in fact going about it the wrong way – instead of shirk scripture I am explaining my view on many passages. In doing so I make it possible to examine the plausibility of what I am saying – I am enabling people to affirm or refute my reasoning. If you want to engage with me I can assure you that telling me that my views don’t align with the Catholic church, or with “many others”, or with any mainstream denomination (when I don’t know one that as a whole preaches a gospel founded on God’s holiness and justice at this moment) isn’t going to carry any weight. It isn’t enough for you to say of me “You reject the evidence of the Scriptures presented which I think are very clear” as if your certainty means anything in an interaction about the meaning of scripture. Why not instead engage on the specific interpretations I give to the verses I listed above – and enter the discussion (for the first time) on the following things:

            – why does the bible refer to both sin and evil?
            – what is the sin that leads to death and the sin that does not lead to death in 1 John 5:16-17 (implying that there MUST be at least two kinds of sin – yet so far you have only conceded to their being one)? Do you agree with John Piper (see link) that this passage should be interpreted consistent with people being able to lose their salvation (even while Piper considers that not possible) – and that the act that makes this possible and cannot be prayed for is free, knowing and wilful rebellion against God (contravening his own Calvinism)? Or do you believe the passage means something else?
            – if sin and evil are in your mind one thing does this mean that for you words like inclination and intent are interchangeable – despite the fact that in any court of law in the first world they certainly are not? Do you recognise that somebody who is high on drugs and commits a crime isn’t judged on the intent they have when high on drugs but on the intent they had when their choices were free (or do you refuse to recognise this because you believe people are at no moment free)? How does your understanding about these issues relate to passages such as Genesis 6:5 and Genesis 8:21 which in the ESV speak about INTENT – not INCLINATION – towards EVIL – not SIN – and FROM ONE’S YOUTH – not from birth? Do you believe that the presence of all of these three differences still leaves those verses in your mind in support of original sin and total depravity (when I don’t know anywhere which says that these doctrines relate to intent – or evil – or require people to reach an age of responsibility)? Does your belief that sin is the same as evil mean that you would happily insert inclination (as the NIV does for one of the Genesis passages) instead of intent towards sin instead of evil – into those passages? Are you happy to say that the reason God is flooding the world is because people are inclined towards sin from birth? That God decided to flood the earth due to its exhibiting characteristics he put into creation – and despite the fact that he knew that Adam and Eve would sin?

            Finally you mention Ecclesiastes 9:3 – which now becomes the twentieth passage I will have commented on. Again it supports the idea of there being an age in which we become considered capable of knowing right from wrong – and – consistent with my belief that all people at that point – as a result of the influence of sin – make a FREE choice to rebel against God – it refers to EVIL not to sin.

          • And one last challenge – which rests over me too – can you find anywhere in the vast number of occasions where the bible refers to sin and to evil – where the context disproves the distinction I have made between the two? I have been hoping to find a passage which referred to both at the same time – I don’t currently have tools which can allow me to do this kind of search. (I suggest that with so many passages that mention either sin or evil that if I am wrong it will surely be revealed. If somewhere contradicts – instead of being either neutral or giving support to my views – I will of course be forced to change them).

          • Hi Benjamin

            1. Expressing that the belief that each person is born free from a sinful disposition is Pelagian was not meant as an insult but as a matter of fact. It was probably intended as cautionary. If I knew a view I held was virtually unknown among orthodox believers and was held by a recognised heretic I’d be concerned.

            2. Building on the above, I do think it is wise in interpreting Scripture, especially interpreting big issues, to take into account the history of belief on the topic. If my view has not commended itself to the body of orthodox believers then I would be unlikely to pursue it, especially if texts exist that others fairly uniformly interpret in a way that counters my thesis.

            3. There are a number of verses which fairly heavily lean towards inheriting a sinful nature. These have already been enumerated. Ps 51:5, 58: 3; Ecc 9:3: Jer 17:9; Job:4; Gen 8:21; Roms 7:23; Matt 7:17-20; Roms 8:8

            4. There are three forces that produce sin in humanity – the world, the flesh and the devil. Two of these are influences without (the devil and the world) the third is an influence from within (the flesh). While flesh sometimes simply means human, very often it is used to describe fallen humanity. It is presented as the state of humanity that does not have the Spirit and is not born of God. This is a binary distinction; I am off the Spirit or I am off the flesh… there is no neutral or probationary period envisaged. That which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit (Jn 3:6). Jesus is saying as he said in Matt 7 that a tree produces fruit according to its kind. Flesh births flesh ad flesh is opposed to the Spirit (Gals 5:17). It is hostile to God (Roms 8:8). Nothing good dwells in flesh (Roms 7:18). Flesh produces only death (Roms 7:5). It does not submit to God’s law and indeed cannot (Roms 8:17). John and Paul are not here discussing degrees of sin but are describing human existence in entirety outside of Christ.

            5. I agree that children are not held responsible until they reach some age of accountability but as you say the issue is not accountability for sin but the fact of sin. As I said defiant self will is evident from very early. Folly is bound up in the heart of a child but disciple will drive it away (Prov 22:15). Yet another pointer to the deceitfulness of the heart.

            6. As I noted in passing above I see no suggestion that each individual is born sinless and only at a subsequent undetermined point decides to disobey. The biblical writers couldn’t use the blanket statements about humanity’s sin if in fact many were not sinners. John could not say ‘the whole world lies in the evil one’ if in fact many did not (1 Jn 5:19).. Jeremiah could not say the heart id deceitful above all things and desperately wicked if in fact it is not (Jer 17:19). Paul could not say ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’s if in fact, as he wrote, many had not sinned (Roms 3:23).

            8. Only those who are tainted by sin deserve to die. Why do babies die? Why did God order the complete annihilation of the Amorites, including babies, if many were in fact completely innocent (Deut 20:16,17). The only justification for death is the organic relationship to Adam with Adam’s sin imputed and Adam’s nature inherited.

            9. Why does the Bible refer to sin and evil. I already pointed out that various words are used effectively as synonyms. Sin, iniquity, transgression, unrighteousness, folly, evil, offence, lawlessness.
            John says sin is lawlessness (1 Jn 3:4). This gives the word ‘sin’ a very serious complexion. I believe I already gave an example of a synonym. (Gen 50:17; Deut 9:18; Jer 36:3). Again, I accept that there are gradations of sin but all sin is rebellion and worthy of death. The human heart from the beginning is a sin factory, a tree that can only produce bad fruit (Matt 15:19; 7:17,18)). There is not a binary lexicon of sin and evil many other words are used for sin. Above is only a few. Sin (missing the mark) is perhaps the most generic term and applies to wrongdoing of every kind and degree. Evil and wicked are probably more often used of sin that has fully flowered. But creating absolute distinctions between them is mistaken more especially when it is to create what in my view is a misguided construct.

            10. Sin that leads to death. First of all this is a difficult Scripture to interpret. When we face a difficult Scripture we will seek to interpret it in the light of the book in which it lies and against the background of the rest of Scripture. I tend to take it as the sin of apostasy such as was committed by the secessionists who denied the true humanity of Christ. Such a ‘brother’ (for John is taking people on the basis of their profession) puts himself beyond the pale and is ultimately to be rejected. I very much doubt that John Piper views this as someone who was truly converted and loses his salvation. Rather he will be taking the view that the individual was never converted,

            It may on the other hand be a sin like Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) or like those in 1 Cor 11:30). That is it many well be very serious sin that leads to the Lord taking their lives. In the latter case the taking of their lives is that their souls may be saved. Are their gradations of sin… all would agree there are.

            11. False dichotomies. We are all guilty of them. I think saying the gospel centres on the glory of God and not human sin is an example. The gospel entails both. The good news demands the explaining of the bad news.

            12. ‘ I do not see how creation being designed so that we inherent Adam’s guilt ’… firstly, of course, our responsibility is to adjust our thinking to what God reveals and not be unduly led by what makes sense to us. However, of course God designed the world good. Yet man rebelled. At that point the original creation was intrinsically disordered and will remain so until it is renewed. Someone else may argue, ‘I don’t know why God made man capable of sinning, after all humanity in the new creation will not be capable of sinning’. It is not incomprehension of God’s glory in creation that is driving your thinking but your refusal to accept that man is fallen and a slave of sin from before birth.

            13. Is the fact that we will be so constituted that we cannot sin in the world to come a problem to you. There will be no ‘free will’ as you seem to be fine it Benjamin in heaven.

            14. No calvinist will argue that we freely make our choices. But he will equally argue that God is sovereignty involved in all human choices and as you know can point to any number of biblical texts that make this point. Our responsibility is to believe what is revealed and to fit our understanding around that.

            Benjamin, I think from texts given it is very clear that a sinful nature is inherited. David’s point in Psalm 51 is that his sin with Bathsheba is not an aberration. His confession is that sin has been part of who he is even before he was born. He was ‘shapen in iniquity’. He doesn’t blame God for how he is but recognises from the outset he has been a sinner. It is David’s self-judgement. If you reject these principal verses listed above then I don’t think anything else will convince you. That they have convinced all shades of opinion in the professing church I feel is something you must weigh carefully.

          • Hi John,
            I am going to reply to your numbered items one at a time.
            1. The video linked below is an interview with an expert on Pelagian. She says firstly that NOTHING he wrote was new – secondly that many of the things attributed to him he never said – and thirdly that Augustine’s theology (his theology being the earliest point in church history to which can Calvinists point for the existence of Calvinist thinking) was a complete departure from orthodox faith.

          • Before I go any further – an observation.

            The statement “human beings are innately good” isn’t wrong – and it isn’t right either. The reason it is neither is because the statement makes no sense. The reason it does not is because central to being a human being – as distinct from being an animal – is that we are made to be in relationship with God.

            What can therefore be said to be wrong is any statement which implies that there is such a thing as being human while FOR WHATEVER REASON having no opportunity to be in relationship with God. This has to cause such an entity to be less than human – indifferentiable from an animal.

            That leads to the question – does the doctrine of original sin undermine our humanness? Proponents of it might say that since we are born only with a TENDENCY to sin which then leads us to sin that we are still born connected to God even if just for a second. I’m not sure if the doctrine of original does or does not say that that second exists. But it doesn’t matter because whichever way you look at it original sin undermines the very essence of humanness. If the second exists it diminishes God by saying that fellowship with God can co-exist with human beings – who are made to draw from God’s goodness – can at the same time have a tendency to sin. And if the the second does not exist it diminishes human beings – it suggests that someone can be human while at the same time – DUE TO WHATEVER REASON – having no capability to be in fellowship with God. In what sense can someone be said to be human if they are made incapable of being in fellowship with God (as the Calvinists consider the non-elect to be)?

            So – in summary – Calvinist theology makes wrong assumptions arising from its thinking about the goodness of human beings independent of the God with whom they are made to be in fellowship.

          • The sentence above that begins with the words “And if the second exists” would have been better if it had said this:

            Starting with the more severe tendency towards sin which is termed total depravity – being total depraved means that every inclination of a person is towards acting out of fellowship with God – but this is no different to saying that such a person is born with no freedom and therefore no capacity to relate to God – and as I explained this has to make us less than human because being human has no full definition separate from connection with God. But what if a person’s sinful nature allowed them opportunities to do right? This allows the possibility of not sinning at a particular moment however it implies that a person can be in right relationship with God while remaining dominated by their desires – an idea which contradicts the nature of the Christian life as laid out in scripture.

            Being human is about more than biology – it must include our sharing in God’s life.

  13. What do we think of ‘’Tis Finished! The messiah dies’?

    ‘’Tis finished! all the debt is paid;
    Justice divine is satisfied;’

    I’ve always preferred that one.

    (interestingly some of the web pages with the hymn on don’t have that bit of the lyric, nor ‘The types and figures are fulfilled; / Exacted is the legal pain;’; were those not in the original, but added later?)

    • ‘’Tis finished! all the debt is paid;
      Justice divine is satisfied;’

      Nowt wrong wi’ that! (I believe in satisfaction and substitution btw.)

      The economic soteriological metaphors are of redemption/ransom or debt repayment/cancellation.  Both of these make good a shortfall but neither are punitive or penal: i.e. Christ pays (“makes good”) our DEBT to God (what we owe) not our FINE (a penalty imposed as punishment, extra to any amount owed).

      • Oliver,
        What is the curse, the curse of death? It can hardly be referred to as debt, surely, but more so as punishment, ie a death penalty. So I’d suggest that perhaps it’s not either/or but both/and, and even more in the multifactoral aspects of atonement, in the multi figures and types patterns and echoes in the OT.
        Still on phone and not yet read your longer comment. But I have, Pierced for our Transgression, not looked at since its first publication.

        • What is the curse, the curse of death? It can hardly be referred to as debt, surely, but more so as punishment, ie a death penalty.

          It’s an inevitable consequence, isn’t it? If you stick your hand in a fire, you get burnt. If you sin, you die.

          Unless, that is, someone else wraps their hand around yours so that they get burnt instead of you.

          • “If you stick your hand in a fire, you get burnt. If you sin, you die.

            Unless, that is, someone else wraps their hand around yours so that they get burnt instead of you.”

            Oh I like that! Thanks!

          • Im not sure that is an appropriate analogy. Sin is primarily a moral reality not a physical one. I would say rather than death being the inevitable consequence of sinning, it is the inevitable consequence of judgement on sin.

          • Im not sure that is an appropriate analogy. Sin is primarily a moral reality not a physical one.

            Well yes the point is to make a physical analogy for a moral reality. Obviously as in any analogy there are points of correspondence and points of difference.

            I would say rather than death being the inevitable consequence of sinning, it is the inevitable consequence of judgement on sin.

            I would too, but the point is that the judgement is inevitable. I think a problem a lot of people have is that they hear ‘God’s judgement’ and they imagine God as a judge with discretion over a range of sentences, like a magistrate weighing up aggravating and motivating factors, who chooses to inflict a disproportionate punishment at the higher end of the scale on people who deserve at most a slap on the wrist, or even to be let off entirely in view of their circumstances.

            So the point of the analogy is to emphasise that God doesn’t have a choice about whether to punish sin: because perfect justice is part of His nature, God could no longer just choose to let a sinner off and still be God than a fire could not burn and still be a fire.

            Hence the whole business of Him having to put Himself in our place in order to pay the debt that He could not just write off the books.

          • Death is a penal consequence of sin. It is why Adam died and why Christ died; in the latter case it is the sins of others that bring the judgement.

          • Death is a penal consequence of sin.

            What is a ‘penal consequence’ & how is it different from other types of consequence?

          • S

            the adjective ‘penal’ is inserted to show that the consequence is a punishment or judgement. There are consequences in life that are not punishment.

            Death is not simply an impersonal inevitability of the universe or an incidental/accidental/medical outcome of sin; it is a punishment for sin.

            But you say all this better than I.

        • Is a curse the same as a punishment? I don’t know. It’s the same with consequences; how do these and other words / concepts overlap?

          Sin has bad outcomes; its “wages” are death. Wages are not punishment but they are, like punishment, deserved by the recipient (and of course that is the point Paul is making there when he contrasts it with the free gift that we do not earn or merit.) Wages also don’t just happen, as it were, accidentally: they are deliberately meted out by the giver — again, like punishment. But we are in danger of pushing the metaphor too far (you can, for example, work for free and forego your wages or have your wages withheld, or whatever). I think Paul means something more like “consequences” here — inevitable, ineluctable, contingent — and sets it up against grace: “that is what you *deserve* but this is what you *get*”

          (Of course lot of this is applying human analogies to things spiritual and divine. Hence Paul’s use of wages and other economic models.)

          Back to the main point: proponents of a crude penal substitution model say something like “God punished Jesus in our place.” Now that may be true but is it is then God did not see fit to tell us so in scripture, nor is it (imho) congruent with what we do read in the Bible about God, justice, mercy, the cross etc. You can believe it but finding in the bible it requires a good deal more eisegesis than I am comfortable with. Its advantage is that it is a simple and stark message but it unravels into something worse than nonsense once you pull at the loose threads. I suspect the authors of the NT knew that, which is why although they were handed a template on a plate in Is. 53 they use it in a very nuanced and careful way. It’s an elephant trap that they didn’t fall into and nor should we.

          • I like the elephant trap idea. I’ve always wondered why the writers of the NT always eschew the blindingly obvious available quotes and left posterity to tangle a perfectly good narrative. Perhaps we are too dependent on getting doctrine right to form associations than simply pushing into a deeper relationship with God.

          • Daniel: A simple suggestion, not an in depth look.
            Perhaps an explanation can be found in Jesus as fully man, fully God.
            In his sinless humanity he was separated, as man but not as God in Tri -unity.

          • Oliver, you’re squirming in the first section of this answer to avoid agreeing with the obvious.

            It’s clear that you have thought about this a lot, however, you have your reasons for standing back from what seems to many to be clear conclusions, including many anglicans. You’re not a St John’s College man by any chance?

            It is not eisegesis to interpret ‘the chastisement that brought us peace’ as punishment. It is a very fair interpretation given the context of the servant being stricken/smitten/afflicted/stripes etc Some of these words are used to describe God’s judgement of Judah/Israel. In there case we are expressly told that they were being chastised and that God’s anger was aroused by their sin and would overflow. However, anthropomorphic the language of aroused anger it reflects a reality deep in the heart of God.

            I feel the whole probably/maybe no wrath and no punishment leans over to avoid seeing what is clear. It is not scholarly reticence and caution but scholarly cowardice and culture which finds wrath and punishment difficult to handle. I read the OT prophets and I can scarcely read them so full of fury and judgement are the emotions of God and his actions towards Israel and the nations.

            There is a raw brutality about the cross which is not ultimately traceable to Roman soldiers but the will of God.

          • Death came because Adam was excluded from the tree of life (Genesis 3:22). And although the ground and the serpent were cursed Adam and Eve were not. There is no definitive indication in the Edenic narrative that Adam ever possessed eternal life in himself. He lost access to the tree of life (and thus died) because he had eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. That is what the text says.

  14. I am uneasy with the line but I think there is a strong case for it, though not with reference to penal substitution. There is a sufficient seam of theology through the OT and NT in which sin causes contamination, is an abomination, land is defiled, even to the point of spitting out the people. The cup of God’s wrath in Jeremiah and passim is another image, a cup that will destroy the people – it is poured out on the wicked. The cup of wrath is a symbol of God’s punishment on sinners, those who have defiled the land. It is bitter and horrid – made up of all the defilement and corruption. [We have rather lost the language of defilement and abomination but it is a key strand of theology.
    On the cross we are told Jesus does not take the wine laced with myrrh which would be a pain-killer but he does drink the wine offered in John’s Gospel, the sour wine, cheap wine, and having drunk it, he says “It is finished”. Although it is a sponge and not a cup, may we take this to be Jesus taking the cup of wrath, the defilement of the world in and on himself. The one who gives the water of life was thirsty, the one who provided the best wine for others drinks the worst, the one who is undefiled takes the defilement of the world on himself.
    This is not a Father who has to punish someone, but the self-taking by God, in Christ, to make clean again the defiled world.
    I am not sure if this is a twisted way to read the texts – it is not done to make the hymn work but in light of this way of thinking, the hymn is more than sing-able. On the Cross, God drained the cup of wrath that we might not suffer its effects.

    • I think that it is difficult to deny that ‘this cup’ is a cup of wrath, which has rich scriptural precedent.

      Interpretation has to take account of the many different Markan references to an undrunk cup (James and John, Last Supper, Gethsemane, wine/myrrh), and finally the drinking of…vinegar (Jesus/Mark clearly chose his words carefully when he said ‘fruit of the vine’, not committing to wine per se).

      Other unifying ideas for this sequence? T E Schmidt NTS’95 relates these to imperial ceremonial quaffs around the sacrifical ritual during an imperial Triumph ceremony; and many have spoken of the different Passover cups (e.g. Scott Hahn, The Fourth Cup).

    • Thanks Peter.
      I think more can be drawn out from the sacrificial system, based on the premise of * a life for a life”.
      Jesus can also be seen as the dual but one sacrifice involving the Azazel, scapegoat. (Leviticus 16:21-22) It invovled priest lay hands on head of the goat for the goat to bear the iniquities of the people.
      The goat is banished, removed, to die outside the camp carrying the sins.
      The two goats amount to one offereing; for a sin offering. Leviticus 16:5.
      The scapegoat was just as much a sin offering as the goat that was slaughtered.
      And this is from Messianic Jews Dr Mitch Glaser (Fullers Seminar) and (MA) wife Zhava; The Fall Feasts of Israel.
      ” The two goats foreshadowed the slacrifice of Christ. When the Messiah died on Calvery, He paid the penalty for our sins, as did the goat that was slaughtered He also removed sin. But where does the New Testament teach that our sins are removed through His sacrifice?
      ” John the Baptist combined the idea of the azazel with the Passover Lamb. ..John cried: Behold the Lamb if God, who *takes away* thesin of the world.” (John 1:29).
      Jesus is not only the slain Lamb, who protects us from the wrath of God (Exodus 12).
      He is not merely a “sheep led silently to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53). He is also the azazel(Leviticus 16).
      For through His death, the sins of all who believe are completely removed.”

        • Ian,
          It is echoed as the quotation above from John the Baptizer as explaines by Glaser, the Lamb who *takes away* the sins.
          That is the atonement is multi-facetted. Here there are allusions to Yom Kippur, not only Passover. By Messianic Jews all the Feast/Festival are seen as Festivals of the Messiah, with multiple figural pointers or allusions, fulfilled by the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus. Fulfilled in the now, but not yet, sense. Or finished, but the game is not over sporting sense. It speaks to the past, present and future.

        • Bit of weird lateral thinking coming….
          Jesus and the Holy Spirit were the two witnesses, the two olive trees and the Lamb and Scapegoat. On the cross Jesus gave up His Spirit, the Holy Spirit that had ×remained× on Him since baptism. They are the Water and Blood, and possibly the Word and the Testimony. The Angel who refused John’s worship pointed to the Word and Testimony and referred to Himself as ×it×. Even St. Paul uses ×it× for The Spirit. The Angel does this because he directs we worship Jesus, not the Spirit.

        • And Ian,

          I don’t think Psalm 103,
          particularly 103:12 is free-floating, but is an expression forgiveness through the sacrificial system with particualar emphasis on the removal of sin to infinity -again connotations of the scapegoat removal of sin on the Day if Atonement.
          I think Christ fulfillment of the OT, and sacrificial systems, sacrificed, once for all, shows the removal of sin is not tethered to the OT, Day of Atonement, Festival, pointing forward as it does to Christ, with his eternal, into infinity removal of sin, past, present, future.

    • Peter

      Sin is a contamination and I agree with the implications you draw out; sin is a contamination or infection unto death. I’d add that sin is also treason and rebellion and ultimately deicide. What’s a fitting response to these kinds of atrocities? How should God react to attempts to dethrone him and to murder him? Should he be indifferent? Jesus tells us what he will do to those who kill his son.

      When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”… And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

      I suspect our problems with a cup of wrath are rooted in our weak understanding of the sinfulness of sin. This comment is not to counter what you say simply to augment it.

  15. Thank you Ian for including this.
    It, to me is a slight pity that you have used the song as a launchpad for consideration of atonent.
    As I’m not at home and this is on my phone and I’ve not read all the comments I make one or two points.
    1 The Goodness of God is paramount: it is never case of a stern hateful Father. And it was for the “the joy set before him (Jesus). He brings many sons to glory, to share his inheritance.
    2 The Trinity is central.
    3 The wrath in Romans 5:9 is not an abstract impersonal thing. In context, if it didn’t relate to God, then who to?
    4 I’m unsure how this can be discussed without tracing the theme of passover, and throughout the OT. Including shelter under the blood of the lamb, from what? God’s (wrathful?) judgment: including transfer of sins and scapegoat. Here is vicarious, substitute.
    5 Satisfaction. Not sure how or where this has been linked to a medieval sense of honour. It has been link by JJohn and others as paid in full, a debt, satisfied.
    I’d also suggest that it can be described as perfectly satisfied, as in a finished work, nothing to further to add, to be done.
    Romans1 is God’s present continuous judgement God giving humanity over to its over desires in living without Him, his Son, our Saviour.

    6 Atonement is far more multifaceted, more than but not less than penal substitution, through the active and passive obedience of Jesus, it is suggested. I’d add it seems today, that any
    idea of punishment is becoming odious and to be irradicated in some quarters of society.

    7 Little, if any, regard seems to have been given to the doctrine of Union with Christ in relation to the atonement.

    8 Love: 1 John 4:10
    Propitiation? Atoning sacrifice?
    9 How Good is Good Friday?

    • Indeed Geoff. If it is true that Jesus was on the cross and dying at the same time the Passover lambs were being sacrificed in the Temple with blood pouring everywhere, it is hard not to understand His death at least partially as protecting us from God’s judgment as per the original Passover whereby those judged without said protection were killed.

      Whether or not the result of His judgement is ‘wrath’ is debateable, but it certainly looks like it!


      • That’s the point Peter. There is more reason to see wrath than not see it. When Noah came out of the ark and offered blood sacrifices the smell of the sacrifice pleased (satisfied) God that he said he would not flood the earth again; the sacrifice averted judgement. The passage proves that sacrifice and appeasement in a context of judgement is not unbiblical. A very strong argument I think is the recapitulation of Israel by Messiah. The destruction of Jerusalem and exile to Babylon and the NT destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans and the subsequent diaspora were historical ‘days of the Lord’. They were days of divine wrath and punishment. The OT is quiet explicit on this. So too was the cross. The nations this time including his own nation are not gathered against Israel but her Messiah. The cross was his exile, his holocaust. It was where the believing remnant (including us) say he was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities the punishment that brought us peace was laid on him and with his stripes we are healed.

        Geoff has helpfully laid out many of the appropriate texts and arguments.

  16. Satisfaction: an illustration. I asked an artist cum teacher how she knew her painting was finished. Good question she said. Is it when you are satisified with it more to add, I asked? Yes, she said.

    • But that is subjective. This is more about the Greek idea of perfection which is objective eg completion or balancing (the books or an equation)

      • Oliver,
        It is an illustration. You were keen to allude to an elephant trap, and to accept the illustration offered by S as objective. But not this one?
        I’m putting this forward as an illustration for the objective truth of the perfection of Christ atonement that can not be added to improved upon in his sinless humanity and Godness, the God/ Man. Which brings God satisfaction, indeed pleases Him bringing as it does unsurpassible glory and honour to his Son, in whom he is well pleased.

  17. How does one reconcile the premise of the unbroken Trinity with Jesus saying “Father, why have you forsaken me?”?
    I’ve read McCalls explanation here:
    “We should not understand it [Jesus’ cry to God on the cross] to mean any abandonment of the humanity that Christ came to take on himself and to save. And we should not understand it to mean that the communion between the Father and the Son was disrupted or that the Trinity was any way “broken.” We should, however, take the cry of dereliction as a powerful expression of the identification of the Son of God with us and our predicament. And we should understand it to mean that what the Father abandoned the Son to was death at the hands of sinful people. So while the abandonment is real, it in no way implies a loss of contact or relationship between the Father and the Son.”

    … it just doesn’t fully ‘click’ for me. So is he saying that Christ felt in his bones how abandoned the whole of humankind felt, without actually experiencing it himself? If not tearing the Trinity apart this explanation then somewhat seems to tear apart man and God within Christ…

    • Daniel,

      It doesn’t actually say he was forsaken by his Father but by His God. Jesus is very much the man suffering and feeling forsaken. Forsakenness was often the experience of OT saints. The Psalms have it quiet often. Chiefly Israel in the exile felt the self to be forsaken by God. In one sense they were. They were out of their land and desolate in a foreign land. These outward realities fed no doubt the inner absence of God. It was like this for Jesus. The cross was his exile, his far country. And he was forsaken. He could not look up to the heavens and see the face of his God – the heavens were in darkness. He could not search within his pain racked body and find solid ground on which to stand. He could not sense that God was near for God was ‘afar off’ (Ps 22).

      I think in this ‘holy place’ we have to leave our questions about ruptures in the trinity and believe what we are told. In thee depth of his soul Christ felt that God did not hear the ‘words of his roaring’. Why does he feel ‘cast off and rejected’? Because, and note, God was ‘full of wrath’ against his anointed. An expression that needs weighed in the present discussion.

      But now you have cast off and rejected;
      you are full of wrath against your anointed.
      39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant;
      you have defiled his crown in the dust.
      40 You have breached all his walls;
      you have laid his strongholds in ruins.
      41 All who pass by plunder him;
      he has become the scorn of his neighbors.
      42 You have exalted the right hand of his foes;
      you have made all his enemies rejoice.
      43 You have also turned back the edge of his sword,
      and you have not made him stand in battle.
      44 You have made his splendor to cease
      and cast his throne to the ground.
      45 You have cut short the days of his youth;
      you have covered him with shame. Selah. (Ps 89)

  18. Whatever the attitude and unity or not of the father towards the son (and I am not saying that we shouldn’t work out what it is) it isn’t the primary issue which many liberals delight in making it – and I am about to prove why not. Liberals are using this issue to take attention away from the heart of the gospel – which is that God is holy and we are sinners – and therefore no matter how God applies his justice we stand in debt. They wish to distract from the fact that there isn’t any possibility of negotiating with God – appealing for a lesser charge – God’s justice is unchanging – he must reward righteousness and he must punish wrongdoing – justice must either be applied directly to us or applied to Jesus. (Which leads to the question of in what circumstances it will be applied to Jesus. The answer is – only when we are ‘dead’. The cross does not give God a means of tolerating rebellion against him.

    Here is what I believe we overlook – it’s perfectly possible for any person to become a Christian while under the impression that God is vengeful – hateful. It doesn’t get in the way of someone being saved IN THE SLIGHTEST.

    To explain why not consider the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – this being the Gene Wilder version (the Tim Burton movie and the book were called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Charlie and Grandpa Joe are the only golden ticket holders left on the tour – all other entrants are disqualified – sucked up pipes – atomised – etc. And we reach the scene in Willy Wonka’s office where Willy Wonka informs Charlie and Grandpa Joe that they too are disqualified because they broke a rule. Grandpa Joe protests – how dare he apply such harsh justice to a young boy! But what does Charlie do? He accepts this harsh justice – even to the point of handing back his everlasting gobstopper.

    It turns out that THIS is the test! He has passed! This was proof that he was a suitable person to run the factory – a person with whom Willy Wonk can share his secrets. I know of no scene where the heart of the gospel is explained more beautifully. Yes the gospel is about the love of God – but not one single person has a revelation of that being the case until they are on the other side of God’s justice. We can tell people all we like about how the cross reveals a God whose holiness, justice, mercy and grace are love – but whatever they hear people cannot receive these truths simultaneously. The non-believer must respond to God’s holiness (revealing their sin) and justice IMMEDIATELY – before having any further insight into God’s character – in order to THEN be given insight into his mercy and grace. We must repent BEFORE knowing how God will respond. Repentance is choosing plan A without knowing how it will turn out and having already closed the door to all plan B’s.

    Imagine that you owe someone 50 pounds. Then imagine they are a horrible brute of a person – mean – unfeeling. It doesn’t matter – you still owe them 50 pounds. The basis for our obligation to repent is not that God is a nice guy. The fact that God feels love for us and wants to know us is no more reason to repent than the love of a fan is a reason for a pop star to turn his head. The REASON for our having to repent – and the RESOURCES with which to offer our lives before we now how God will respond – exists only in our being obligated by God’s holiness (revealing our sin) and his justice. God makes SURE of it. There is no way to ensure we come to love all of his nature unless we love his holiness and justice before doing so gives us some kind of advantage.

    So someone can be saved by responding to what they believe at the time to be a stern unfeeling God – a God who delights in applying justice harshly – a God who is eager to condemn instead of to restore. Yet NO-ONE has EVER become a true Christian only on the basis of hearing that God feels love for them and wants to know them.

    At this point some may wish to protest and say “What about the person who is contrite but isn’t confident that God will accept them? Doesn’t their hearing that God wants to know sinners cause them to make that final step toward God? No – I just pointed out that such a person is already contrite – God’s grace has already enlightened them and enabled them to make a step towards him. The only thing that must therefore happen is for them to find out that God considers their worship acceptable (Rom 12:1).

    So – in conclusion – the attitude and unity or alienation of the father to the son at the cross might be a primary doctrine to do with the trinity (while I believe that those who misspeak about God’s attitude to the son aren’t in my estimation seeking to divide God!) – but it is a secondary issue in respect of our coming into right relationship with God. The primary issue is that there is no grace this side of God’s justice – no life without first dying – no true salvation on the basis of invitation – only on the basis of obligation.

    So I hope we won’t let ourselves get played – that we will keep the focus on the fact that God’s justice must be satisfied – that his holiness and our sin and his justice leave us in debt.

    • Forgive the phrase “make a step toward him”. It’s important that non-Calvinists speak in the best possible way – a way that shows that salvation is entirely God’s work. When we repent we RECEIVE something – we receive the truth that we stand in debt to God – and are therefore bound to him forever. This receiving then enables grace to change our hearts – to cause us to align our lives to the state before God we acknowledged.

      • Philip

        Calvinists if they are bible believing will have little problem with the phrase ‘take a step towards him’. From a human perspective that’s exactly what happens. We repent and believe. These are human responses. Behind them of course the calvinist believes there is a divine enabling; God works in us both to will and do what pleases him. The activity is ours:the enabling is God’s.

      • You just need to move your thinking one step back. Repentance is also a work of grace.

        ‘with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth. 2 Tim 2:5

        When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” Acts 11:18

        “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless bit has been granted him from the Father.” John 6:65

        • Hi John,

          Are you familiar with non-Calvinist beliefs? Are you familiar with the fact that at least every non-Calvinist I have ever encountered believes that God’s grace is necessary in any person’s “coming to him”? I am asking because you just told one of them to “move their thinking one step back”.

          – believe that God’s grace must enlighten and enable – ensuring that despite people’s having a sinful nature their turning to God is made a free and enlightened choice.
          – believe that no-one comes to God unless God draws them. I would like a buck for every time a Calvinist quoted John 6 as if it was some kind proof of Calvinism. It isn’t – it’s proof that for any person to be saved God must make an active decision – he must find people’s worship – their faith proven to be saving faith in its being accompanied by repentance – acceptable (Romans 12:1).

          The difference is the non-Calvinist believes that God acts consistent with his wish that all should be saved – that all should reach repentance – instead of inconsistent with it.
          2 Peter 3:9 ESV
          …not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

    • Hi Philip,

      I think there are different reasons why different people become Christians. Yes perhaps some out of fear of judgement. But I think for some it is because they come to an understanding that God is real and loves them. For me it was largely because I became (and am still) convinced that the resurrection of Jesus is a fact of history. Plus I had an ‘experience’ whereby God (I believe) convinced me (my spirit?) that everything I had been reading about Jesus in the previous few weeks was indeed true. My intellect was converted, then my emotions. So I gave in! It should be noted that the main reason why the first disciples became genuine believers instead of continuing to flee was because they witnessed the risen Jesus.

      He is risen!


      • Hi Peter,

        Thank you for reading my post and for your reply.

        I believe that whilst the life circumstances of people who become Christians is individual – and people react in individual ways to those circumstances – I maintain that we must look past the language and even descriptions people give about how they become Christians and instead look to what God’s character and the cross says must be true about ALL conversions.

        That is what I was attempting to do in my long comment above – not express opinions based on my personal experience – but to explain that we can know EXACTLY how people who are authentically saved get saved. We can because conversion is an encounter with an unchanging God and a cross which provides access to God on immutable terms. I acknowledge that the process of being saved may vary in length of time but within this there must certain key moments which occur – not dictated by individuals but by the way in which the character of God and the cross combine to provide only one way to be saved.

  19. Sorry to write so much but I feel strongly about this area.

    Let me explain step by step a logical reason why the bible does not reveal God’s attitude towards the sin Jesus dies for on the cross – why we only read enough to know that his death satisfies justice.

    There are two kinds of sin – what is called “sin” in scripture – and what is called “evil” in scripture. They cannot be two words for the same thing because we see in scripture that God loves sinners (John 3:16) and hates evil doers (Psalm 5:5-6).

    So what then makes sin evil? Evil isn’t stealing four slices of bread instead of three. It isn’t committing a sin which is considered more serious in our current culture. A person could for example murder someone else who had been abusing them for decades only in order to say “You’re wrong – I’m worth something”. Their action is sin – but their reason for sinning is one that God identifies with. No – the difference between evil and sin is that evil is free, knowing, and wilful sin.

    There are three kinds of sin that I have identified in scripture:
    – sin which is weakness (Matt 26:41) – where a person wants to obey God but their flesh draws them away.
    – sin which is wilful but ignorant (1 Tim 1:13)
    – sin which is free, knowing, and wilful.

    All sin is either the result of past rebellion – or current rebellion. Not all sin is current rebellion. Referring to the three kinds of sin above only the third one is current rebellion. The first two are the result of past rebellion – the result of a past free, knowing and wilful choice to rebel against God (this theology isn’t possible if you believe in the doctrine of original sin – which considers people objects of wrath (Eph 2:2) on the basis that they “sinned” as a result of a tendency to sin – even though their sin wasn’t “free”. (Original sin is not ESTABLISHED (proven) by any passage in scripture. Not Psalm 51:5 – which can have other meanings – for example “from the moment I was born I was surrounded by sin”, not Genesis 6:5 and not Genesis 8:21 which are about INTENT to do EVIL – not INCLINATION towards SIN – and in the case of Genesis 8:21 – only from one’s youth – showing that evil must be KNOWING sin).

    Because there are only two moments when people are free – from the moment of birth – and at the moment in which they are enabled by God’s enabling grace which accompanies the gospel to turn to God – these are the only two states in which a person can commit evil. We all do the first but because God’s love is revealed less fully in creation than in the gospel some people who do the first still end up responding affirmatively to God’s love revealed in the gospel.

    There is nowhere in the bible where God is said to hate sin – we are only told that God hates evil and that we should do so (Rom 12:9). The sin that Jesus pays the price for on the cross is a combination of sin arising from evil choices – and the first kind of evil choice I mentioned – rebellion against God’s love revealed in creation. Jesus doesn’t die only for the evil choices that then lead to a tendency to sin and to ignorance. He also dies for the first non-conclusive but evil choice. This is why it isn’t possible to make any clear statement about God’s attitude to the sin for which Jesus dies – because he doesn’t hate all of it. If Jesus died only for the initial acts of evil which we all commit in rebelling against God’s love in creation then God might be said to hate the sin Jesus is dying for. But Jesus isn’t paying only the price for evil choices – he’s redeeming all that is broken that arises from evil choices – he’s dying for all sin. And God doesn’t hate all sin.

    • I made an error above – there are more than two moments when people are free to commit evil. Not just at birth – and not just when enabled by the gospel to turn to God and then not doing so. Also when a person’s sinful nature grants them the freedom to make a free choice but they choose to rebel. Our sinful nature doesn’t incline us towards sin at every moment (total depravity isn’t proven anywhere in scripture – I just showed not in Gen 6:5 and Gen 8:21 which are about INTENT to do EVIL – and in Mark 12:34 we see a clear example of someone who is not in the kingdom being commended by Jesus for doing good) – there is therefore some freedom to continue to make evil choices.

        • Ah, glad I continued to read to he end!
          BTW, you don’t differentiate between evil and wickedness. Evil is ignoring a sign that says quicksand and getting stuck. Wickedness is removing the sign and causing one’s own sticky problem and consequences for others.

          • Thanks for reading Steve.

            It’s my fault – instead of “evil” I should have compared sin with “evil doing” and “evil doers” – these I believe are one with wickedness.

            Sin which isn’t evil may open the door to evil. But that’s a different thing to “evil doing” which for the reasons I explain I understand to be free, knowing and wilful sin.

    • Hi Benjamin

      You have brought up a few issues which you would like some feedback on. I can only respond in part just now but will try to engage more fully later. Firstly, I think you make a good point when you put the gospel focus on God’s righteousness and holiness. The gospel is firstly a response to his righteousness revealing how he can be just and justify he who believes in Jesus (Rms 3:25). It is a message to repent because God has appointed a day in which he will judge the world. It is a response to the dilemma of human sin ad divine wrath. Unless this is clearly presented then conversions are likely to be superficial and liable to collapse.

      However, i don’t think this means God’s love is not present in the proclamation. Roms 5 explicitly says ‘God commends his love towards us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us’. God’s love is the primal reason for the cross though not the need for the cross.

      In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. I Jn 4:8

      You agree with his of course but add, ‘Yes the gospel is about the love of God – but not one single person has a revelation of that being the case until they are on the other side of God’s justice.’ I would agree with your logic but conversion doesn’t always follow strict logic. People come to Christ initially for all sorts of reasons what matters is why they stay. These truths of the gospel must flourish in their heart. So while I agree with your concern that people understand their true need for Christ this (as with the disciples) may only be received gradually, At first people may simply see men as trees walking.

    • ‘There are two kinds of sin – what is called “sin” in scripture – and what is called “evil” in scripture. They cannot be two words for the same thing because we see in scripture that God loves sinners (John 3:16) and hates evil doers (Psalm 5:5-6).’

      I fear that this would take an extended discussion to persuade you that although there are grades of sin all sin is rebellion and results in death, Does your commitment to this idea stem from the apparent contradiction that God loves sinners and hates evildoers? If so, I would simply say he both loves and hates the sinner at the same time. It is perhaps a more biblical way of expressing that God loves the sinner and hates the sin. It seems that when God looks at a person in terms of their sin his anger is aroused but when he looks at them as a person he has created he loves them.

      Of all men he says they do evil continually (Genesis 6:5). The heart of man is evil above all things and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come to the light lest his deeds be exposed (I John 3:20). It is from within that evil thoughts come… (Matt 7:21). The tongue is a fire, a world of evil… (Jas 3 :6). The good I would do, I do not. The evil I would not, that I do (Romans 7: 10).

      Ultimately all who do not fear the Lord are ‘sinners’, ‘evildoers’ and ‘wicked’. Although there is gradation of sin yet all sin is rebellion… all is evil and wickedness. How could it be other? It is all activity that contradicts the holiness of God and flows from a heart that is tainted from birth (Ps 51:5; 58:3, . All unrighteousness is sin (1 John 5:17). Sin is lawlessness (i John 3:4). Other words like ‘iniquity’ and ‘transgression’ are also part of the taxonomy of words used to describe sin but while these have different nuances they are all essentially sin; different angles on the same thing.

      ‘ the difference between evil and sin is that evil is free, knowing, and wilful sin.’

      As I have said above I don’t think there is in principle a difference between sin and evil; they are virtually synonyms. The Bible speaks about intentional sin and unintentional sin. In the OC only unintentional sin had a sacrifice available (which may explain why in Ps 51 David brought no sacrifice).

      I wonder how far your rejection of calvinism drives this belief? I believe in original sin. Original sin properly understood within calvinism is not that we inherit a sinful nature through Adam (true though that is) but that we inherit Adam’s guilt. We die not because of our own sin (though again this is a cause for death) but we die because of Adam’s sin. We are guilty in Adam. Why do babies die? What moral culpability explains their deaths? They do not die because of personal guilt. They die because of Adam’s guilt. More importantly the parallel between Adam and Christ points in this direction. Both are heads of a humanity. The actions of both affect the humanity that is theirs. Christ’s one act of obedience in death meant his race are declared (not made) righteous. His action constituted his seed as righteous. In parallel, Adam by his one act disobedience, constituted all his descendants as unrighteous. In Christ, those constituted righteous live while in Adam, those constituted sinners die.

      Of course, in both there is a transfer of nature as well as status but it is status that is in view in Roms 5 and status that is intended by original sin, at least in calvinistic theology. Having said all of that I must disagree with your view that an inherited sinful nature is not proved by any passage in Scripture. I think the passage from Ps 51:5 that you cite proves what you claim it doesn’t.

      Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
      and in sin did my mother conceive me.

      This is an example of Hebrew parallelism. The point is straightforward he was a tainted by sin from conception. The same point is made in Psalm 58

      The wicked are estranged from the womb;
      they go astray from birth, speaking lies.

      His point again is that wickedness is inherent. It is a defect that is bound up in the human heart from the very beginning of life. The Lord makes the same judgement of Israel the nation.

      ‘from before birth you were called a rebel’.

      The fruit of a tree reveals its type. If we sin it is because by nature we are sinful (Matt 7:16-19). We are ‘by nature’ children of wrath (Eph 2). Our humanity is destined for wrath because it is intrinsically rebellious. The flash, that is the humanity we inherit by birth, Paul speaks of it in Romans 8

      For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.

      Jesus brings out the same point when he says

      ‘Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.’

      ‘ here is nowhere in the bible where God is said to hate sin’

      But Benjamin, don’t you recognise how bizarre that sounds. After all Christ died for our sins. Our sins and iniquities we are told have separated us from God. Sin from the beginning carried the sentence of death. I’ve pointed out that sin and evil are synonyms. That Scripture doesn’t explicitly use the words ‘I hate sin’ is without significance because everywhere that truth is revealed. It is implied in the seven things the Lord hates (Provs 6). It underpins eternal judgement. ‘

      Yes God will judge according to what we know and do but outside of faith in Christ sinners of every hue will be judged because of their sin; God is not indifferent to sin. He hates it for it offends his godness. It degods him. It is rebellion. All sin merits judgement therefore all sin is sinful and so by definition hated by God. Matt 12:36,37 expresses the seriousness of all sin.

      But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

      Yes, again, sin has degrees but all sin is abhorrent to God and worthy of eternal judgement. All sin brings upon us the wrath of God. Luke 12:47-48 says,

      ‘The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.’

      Outside the New Jerusalem in Rev 22 are many heinous sinners but counted among them are the cowardly and unbelieving. These are among those worth of death and cast into the lake of fire.

      • Hi John,

        Thank you for taking the time to read what I wrote.

        I begin by making the observation that a great deal rests on whether sin and evil are one or two things. As part of that let me say that my reasoning behind believing that they are two things is only partially that the Bible would not make sense if God loved sinners and hated them. I won’t begin by attempting to justify the next statement but I bring it forward only so that people can see where I am heading. I believe that the severity of sin relates to two things – the fullness of the revelation given to us – and secondly our response to that revelation. I believe that the revelation we have in creation of God’s love is less full than that in the gospel. If it wasn’t there would be all sorts of problems that would arise. For example why would there be any need to preach the gospel? This is why those who rebel against God’s love revealed in creation are called objects of wrath (Eph 2:2) and are called evil doers (Gen 8:21) but the wages of their sin is death (which most commonly means physical death in scripture as I understand it) – because this is the only statement that can be made about ALL sin – we already know that particular sin makes us worthy of hell elsewhere in scripture).

        The reason why God is able to love nonbelievers as well as consider them objects of wrath (I don’t believe that phrase can mean merely that God hates their sin – it means God is angry with nonbelievers) is because until people make a free decision to reject the FULLNESS of God’s love revealed in the gospel God does not consider them to have conclusively chosen to live outside his love. When we do reject the fullness of God’s love it is as if at that point – despite remaining human – we have given ourselves over entirely to evil. We are therefore ONLY hated by God. There are two ways in which people can reach that point (matching the two groups of people who will be in hell mentioned in 2 Thess 1:8) – those who “don’t know God” – I take this to mean those who respond to God’s love in creation in a way so severe that God knows that even if they never heard the gospel they would not accept it) and those who disobey the gospel. So it is therefore a crucial part of my theology that people only go to hell as a result of a free, knowing, and wilful choice to do evil.

        So this is why we are told to hate evil but not told to hate sin (Rom 12:9). This is why we are objects of wrath who are loved in Eph 2:2 and yet objects of God’s unqualified hatred when we reject the gospel. Romans 1 is about God’s anger directed to people who reject God’s love revealed in creation – and Hebrews 10:29-31 is about those who have rejected God’s love in the gospel.
        How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

        And some passages are about both our response to creation and the gospel – they are expressed only in terms of God’s wrath being stored up against evil doing – see Romans 2:5-11.

        So what then does God feel when someone’s sin is not evil doing – when it is either the result of weakness or ignorance? I believe it is clear from scripture that at such times God’s anger is directed towards the PAST act of rebellion – it isn’t directed towards the person (or are we to imagine that Jesus feels angry towards the sin of the disciples when they fall asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane at the time he acknowledges that they want to obey him but their flesh is weak? It doesn’t mean that God has no feeling when for example a man encounters he didn’t choose to look at but then lingers – I believe that in such cases God’s anger is directed toward the evil doing which may be long past – which followed the point where the man first came responsible for knowing right from wrong (see Deut 1:39) – when he freely, knowingly, and wilfully chose to rebel against God – resulting in him having a tendency to sin which leads to his current sin. So the anger is indirect – it looks back to the act that saw the man acquire a tendency to sin – it doesn’t ignore the fact that in people’s hearts there is a desire to honour God. And the same with sin that is ignorance – we are ignorant because our free, knowing, and wilful decision to rebel against God caused us to become ignorant in the past – as explained in Romans 1:21 below.
        “For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him”.

        On that note elsewhere on this forum page John I asked you if you would be happy to explain how you understand Romans 1:21 – specifically the words “although they knew God”.

        I think this verse aligns more closely with my understanding of our birth state than with original sin. I believe we are born in right relationship with God and at some point after we can be considered to be aware of right and wrong we commit evil – we freely, knowingly, and wilfully sin – as expressly stated in Genesis 8:21 which only makes sense if evil is different to sin (because if it’s about sin it would say that we sin from birth – and BEFORE our youth.

        I haven’t seen Isaiah 48:8 (which you quoted the words from without the citation) or Psalm 58:3 before – they are verses which must be addressed by anyone who dares to claim that original sin is not correct doctrine. Responding first to Isaiah 48:8 I don’t believe it helps to support original sin because it says that BEFORE birth you were called a rebel”. It is a verse which reflects God’s foreknowledge – not a verse which relates to inheriting Adam’s guilt. And I take Psalm 58:3 to be the same – it says something which can only make sense in the light of God’s foreknowledge – that someone speaks lies from birth (when a baby cannot speak! I take it to mean “I have always looked at you as someone who would freely choose to turn away”.

        You pointed out that Genesis 8:21 says that man’s heart is towards evil continually. However this doesn’t prove total depravity – I go to the supermarket continually – it doesn’t mean that I live at the supermarket. And other passages of scripture show that an unbeliever can do right (see Mark 12:34).

        Finally on the issue of whether or not the gospel as proclaimed reveals God’s love – or only once a person repents – my intention (I may not have rightly expressed myself as well as would have been helpful) was not to say that the initial revelation of God’s holiness and justice that a person receives (which requires them to IMMEDIATELY repent) is not God’s love. It is. And even though it is limited to God’s holiness and justice it’s possible to know it is. We can know because love of God and love of neighbour are the fulfilment of the law – and we know as part of that that we are told to be holy and be just. My intention was only to say that this isn’t the FULLNESS of God’s love – that while God’s heart towards people is ALWAYS merciful and gracious (because like his holiness and justice these things are unchanging) people are unable to see and experience these things until reconciled to those parts of God’s love which first require a response – his holiness and justice.

        Happy Easter John and others reading.

        • PS At one point above I said that having rejected the fullness of God’s love in the gospel people are then “ONLY hated by God.” But this must not be misunderstood – this hatred IS love – God is ALWAYS love – people are at that point experiencing God’s holiness.

          As part of my “God is always love” theology – as part of believing there is no good cop bad cop aspect to God – I have come to the conclusion that those who online question the translation of 2 Thess 1:8 in respect of the part that says we are separated from the presence of God – must be right. Why? Because it is impossible for an omnipresent God not to be present somewhere. If such a thing was possible then hell would be a place beyond the sovereignty of God – it would be the place to go to ESCAPE God’s holiness and justice – and people most certainly will not.

          • I think its a mistake to say God’s hatred is love. Better to say that like us and in a more perfect way God is able to view the same person with both love and hate. If my son became a serial killer. I would look at him and hate all that he now was. I would loathe him. But I would also love him for I am his father. This would create conflict in me. In God there is no conflict although the OT does reveal God’s conflicting emotions towards Israel his son.

          • Hi John,
            Which attribute of God’s character is his hatred towards evil and evil doers?
            I don’t know of any answer to that question except his holiness (his justice isn’t an emotion – it is his being oligated to reward righteousness and punish wrongdoing).
            And as I explained above God’s holiness and justice must be considered to be part of his love because the law of Christ is summed up in love of God and love and love of neighbour and we are called to be holy and just as part of doing that.

        • PPS I should have explained more clearly what my issue is with God being angry with sinners and loving them at the same time was (I covered all my understanding of the theology without returning to that issue).
          The issue is not that God feels both anger towards sinners and loves them when they rebel against his love revealed in creation – because this is a lesser revelation. In this case his continuing mercy and grace is applied in the doubt as to whether this rebellion is full and final rebellion against him.
          However once people have rejected the fullness of God’s love in the gospel they are by definition wholly given over to evil and I don’t believe that scripture presents God grieving for eternity for those in hell. There must be a state in which people can stand before God which sees ONLY his holiness and justice applied to them – a state before God which ensures that God is not able to apply his mercy and grace without contravening his character.

          • I agree God does not grieve for eternity over the death of the wicked (those who reject the light he has given). Nor will we. I don’t think we are in a position to say when men have finally rejected the gospel other than when they die. There may be a time in life when God gives up on people but we don’t know when that is and we rightly say to all ‘repent and believe and be saved.’

            In Romans 1 and Romans 9 we have God hardening hearts that have sinned against his light.

        • The follow non-statement:

          “It doesn’t mean that God has no feeling when for example a man encounters he didn’t choose to look at but then lingers”

          should have said (note the added words in UPPER CASE):

          “It doesn’t mean that God has no feeling when for example a man encounters AN IMAGE he didn’t choose to look at but then lingers”

        • I should have explained that perhaps the most plausible alternative interpretation of Psalm 51:5:
          Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

          is that the verse is not about David’s sin but his mother’s sin – David is saying that he was born to a sinful mother – his way of saying that sin was always going to be around him. This interpretation reads the most naturally to me. It aligns with what I read in Genesis 8:21 which is about INTENT to commit EVIL from one’s YOUTH – that we all commit evil (a free, knowing, and wilful sin) against God when we are old enough to know right from wrong instead of sinning as a result of a tendency to sin which we have from birth – as a result of the influence of sin around us (which aligns with what I believe to be the most natural reading of Romans 5:12).

          • Oh come on Benjamin. I think it is a highly implausible reading. I think it is very unlikely that David would be exposing his mother’s sexual sin and unlikely that he would even know if such were the case. You can’t really see this. David is pointing out that his sin with Bathsheba is not an isolated and peculiar event in his life rather sin has ben part of who he is from before he was born. This is a much more probable reading. You’re allowing a presupposition to which you are committed to blind you to the obvious.

            Sorry… I feel I must push ou on this because it is a view that you have clearly become entrenched in and it is skewing your interpretation of passages that the vast majority of the church interpret in at least roughly the same way.

        • Here is an example of a passage which unless sin and evil are different things makes no sense.

          1 John 5:16-17 ESV
          If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.

          Everyone reading this passage must ask “What is the sin that does not lead to death?” and “What is the sin that does lead to death?” I believe the former is sin which is the consequence of a past evil act (sin which is the result of weakness or ignorance) and the latter is evil doing (free, knowing and wilful sin). Which is why we don’t pray for the latter – because God does not override the free, knowing and wilful decisions of people.

          • If one considers the above passage and then looks at Romans 5:12 – which is about death being introduced into the world because all sinned (sin that leads to death) – it becomes clear that Romans 5:12 is about evil doing (free, knowing and wilful sin) – not about “original sin” – not about sin which is the result of a tendency to sin from birth.

          • Here is John Piper on sin that does and does not lead to death.


            His conclusion? Despite believing in perseverance of the saints – despite believing in once saved always saved – despite believing that even sin which is free, knowing and wilful is covered by grace if one is one of the elect – he interprets the passage – which starts with the words “If anyone sees HIS BROTHER committing a sin…” – when it refers to sin that leads to death – to be about when BROTHERS decide to reject God altogether.

  20. “…First, in the NT…..God is never described as being ‘angry’. Wrath is always a noun, and never a verb.”
    Hebrews 3: 7 -19 ( and on as far as 4:11) which does quote the Hebrew Bible appears to be an extended discussion not just on God’s anger but also on God being angry…???
    (Or is Hebrews actually part of the old dispensation and so off limits in this discussion?)

    • Hebrews is not part of the ‘old dispensation’, and I don’t believe in dispensations!

      But there is no verb ‘to be angry’ there. God ‘swore in my wrath’. It is a noun, as elsewhere.

      • Hebrews 3:17 Bible Hub “(prosōchthisen)
        Verb – Aorist Indicative Active – 3rd Person Singular
        Strong’s 4360: To be displeased or offended with. From pros and a form of ochtheo; to feel indignant at.” ‘with whom was God angry’
        OK – this is NT commentary on the OT but the thrust of the argument is – people misbehaved – God was angry then – God hasn’t changed – don’t miss out now…

  21. I don’t find anything objectionable either theologically or linguistically in ‘the wrath of God was satisfied’. True, it is not according to the OED, but much of Shakespeare is not according to the OED. Despite the clever, belated, logical objections, everyone knows what the lyricists meant: God’s wrath was assuaged, and because death was a penalty, a debt that could not be paid, Jesus satisfied the debt. Far from being meaningless, the phrase is theologically rich.

    The distinction between verb/adjective and noun is likewise specious. If there is anger in your heart, it is because you are/are feeling angry. What the NT emphasises more than the OT, however, is the ‘riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience’ (Rom 2:4). On these we should not presume lest we store up wrath for ourselves.

    ‘The wrath of God’ translates words that could be translated more ordinarily as ‘God’s anger’, but as the phrase conveys a specific, theological meaning, the traditional translation should be retained. As I set out at greater length in When the Towers Fall: A Prophecy (Wipf & Stock), which everyone should read, it has two meanings.

    (1) It signifies death, which is the penalty of sin. For example, in Ps 90:7, 9, 11. Or in Rom 4:15 and 13:4 and in Eph 2:3 (even though ‘of God’ is not in the Greek). ‘Death’ here includes the judgement which follows death and the consequent painful punishment for our sins. Jesus did not merely die for our sins, he suffered for them. If we are saved, we are saved from judgement, from death, and from punishment. I don’t think this is commonly grasped in expositions of the gospel.

    (2) It signifies a limited period when God will visit his wrath on all the earth, on all unbelieving humanity – for many reasons, but chiefly because of its sexual license and impurity (Eph 5:6, Col 3:6). It culminates in the ‘day of wrath’ (2:5), the ‘day of the Lord [Yahweh]’. The expression of that wrath will take the form of physical torment, the death of the creatures of the ocean (because of the oxygen-sucking heat of the sun), the pollution of the earth’s sources of drinking water, clouds enveloping the Earth in darkness and a global earthquake which shakes every mountain and brings down all the world’s skyscraping monuments to Mammon. It comes upon the last generation of the present age. For everyone else, it represents potentially what a sinner might have to suffer after death.

    The wrath is set out in Revelation 16. It is enacted pictorially in the pouring out of the bowls of God’s fury (thumos), not simply ‘wrath’ as our translations have it. Fury is an emotion, not merely an attitude. In Rev 6:16 John says it is the wrath of the Lamb. It does not last forever (Rev 16:17, 19).

    Today is the day the Lamb took that wrath upon himself.

    • Amen Steven
      Although you leave me behind when you go off on your very literal exposition. As I said before, the Bowls of Wrath sequence in Revelation seems to speak of Christ passion. The greatest earthquake in history was and always will be the first Easter. Any subsequent earthquake or physical phenomena will only be an aftershock. A pale reminder of that Passion.

  22. Thank you for discussing this important topic!

    I think the great comfort I have always taken in a substitutionary view of the atonement is that it shows me how personal God’s salvation is. Whereas Christ’s cosmic redemption is wonderfully expressed in the Christus Victor model say, substitutionary atonement reminds me that Christ died for me. The wages of sin are death, and Christ has received those wages instead of me.

    I think the Stephen Travis argument you quoted is very helpful: ‘in Christ God himself took responsibility for the world’s evil and absorbed its consequences into itself.’ This is true, but I would want to emphasise that the consequences to evil are not arbitrary but are there because God has established them. The wages of sin are death because God says so! To me, this means Christ’s substitution is inevitably ‘penal’, in the sense that Jesus received on our behalf God’s just penalty for our sin – and I think the word punishment here is more fitting than ‘consequences’.

    Maybe Steve Holmes’ distinction between God’s justice between satisfied and his wrath is right, but I think we must continue to emphasise (along with other models) substitutionary atonement – it is such good news!!

  23. Thanks Ian. Maybe the Homilies can help us here. The Second Book of Homilies, #13, ‘An Homily for Good Friday, Concerning the Death and Passion of Our Saviour Jesus Christ’, contains a rich and multi-faceted theology of the Atonement, and includes this:

    “Was not this a manifest token of God’s great wrath and displeasure towards sin, that he could be pacified by no other means but only by the sweet and precious blood of his dear Son?”

    Perhaps ‘good Anglicans’, uncomfortable with singing ‘The wrath of God was satisfied’, can instead sing ‘The wrath of God was pacified’?

    • I do not think we have the right to change the words of a contemporary hymn but I would agree that “the wrath of God was pacified” would be an improvement. (The song sheet produced by our local Churches Together team for the Good Friday Walk of Witness reads “the love of God was satisfied” which is definitely not an improvement!)

  24. Philip B.
    That song you wrote. I appreciate the creativity and theology that went into it. I myself try to write poems and create art that reflects my own walk of faith.
    Now here are some observations which you are free to disregard as I’m not musical in the slightest.
    You need to edit it down a bit or vary the piano accompaniment to give it more structure.
    You need voice training. I only notice things like this ‘cos my wife used to teach music!

    If I can find a way in a minute to send you a poem I’d love to have a candid reflection or two.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Agreed Steve – but as I said it is a working version of the song – a reminder to me of where it stands.

      I’d love to read a poem of yours and see any photos of your art. You can email me at phil benjamin at mac dot com

      Have a great rest of day.

  25. On this day of God’s great giving to us, in the true givenness of love, I thank my friend and Saviour Jesus Christ, that he gave himself, and his sweet life-blood, to the point of no turning back. He went all the way in love. In the whole-hearted ministry and death of Jesus Christ, God shows us God’s own nature – as the Scripture says, that ‘God is Love’ – and teaches us in practice what we are made for: to open our lives in turn to the power and flow of God’s love… a love which means givenness to our neighbours, to those in pitiful need… because God sees the suffering of our world with very great compassion. And yet, as a nurse who has seen innocent tiny children die of cancer, frail elderly swept away by dementia, and also knowing the pitiful poverty and deprivation of so many people… I cannot help but wonder the nature of God’s solidarity with us. God chose not to just stay in a high and holy place, far off, but chose to come and live alongside us, to share in our physical weakness and suffering, to be ‘with us’.

    What I see in the suffering and death of my beloved Jesus is frankly a mystery, with layers and layers of depth and meaning we can’t pin down and box up or limit. What I see is the outpouring of the power of love in the givenness of God, the compassion of God, the sorrow of God, the solidarity of God… which like all true and meaningful love is a givenness to the point of no turning back. Jesus – my Jesus – did not turn back.

    When we talk about ‘wrath’, which one of us does not feel anger at the suffering of an attacked country, or the suffering of little children suffering from malnourishment (or simply because they were born with something wrong in their little bodies. Everything I believe about God convinces me that God feels this anger even more deeply. In the nature of a loving God, there is surely anger, but also surely sorrow too. Perhaps part of the great mystery of the Cross is that God is so giving that God comes in solidarity and, in trying to move people to take responsibility for sin, in a way, also comes to share that accountability too. Is it within the reach of what we may grasp of God, that in our beloved Jesus, in suffering to the point of givenness beyond turning back, and in full sharing of our own predicament… God was also saying sorry?

    I don’t know. That’s the truth. But there are few explanations for the cruel sufferings of little innocents with terminal illnesses (to take one example) that don’t end up sounding facile. Yes, a lot of the suffering in the world is because of human selfishness – we all know that, or ought to. But the pitiful nature of so much human existence is not all attributable to personal sin. When an earthquake strikes are we to blame? To be honest, if I see the givenness of Jesus as a sharing in solidarity with us in all our frailty and vulnerability, to the point of taking responsibility and share of accountability… then that really helps me gasp in awe at how fully God is with us, shares with us, is sorry – personally – for our sufferings… and yet…

    …and yet if we keep faith just two days more… we see the way through and the way forward… and it involves our givenness too… though we need much grace… and in that demonstration of compassion, solidarity, alongsideness we open our hearts to the wonder and deeper realities of the flow and the givenness and the power of love…

    Holy God, you made yourself a little lower than the angels, to say the least, and you did not turn back. You gave yourself in love. When I recall what they did to you, and how your body was abused, and your sweet life blood drained from you… You, who were so dear and decent and courageous and gentle… then I just begin to understand the mystery of who you are… and that in the deepest sense, you are ‘God with us’.

    Resurrection comes!

  26. See Spurgeon on Psalm 22, available also as a spoken recording in two parts in the LibriVox series.
    “When God looks on a sinner who has accepted the blood of the everlasting covenant, justice sentences him to live …
    “When God justifies a sinner, everything in God is on the sinner’s side…
    “Justice is on the side of the returning sinner…because the mystery of the agony of God on the cross has changed our moral situation…

    ” When we talk about justifiication by faith, it isn’t a text to manipulate…

    “We ought to see who God is and why these things are true.

    “We are justifiied by faith because the agony of God on the cross changed the moral situation…
    “We are that moral situation…

    “It didn’t change God at all..

    “The idea that the cross wiped the angy scowl off the face of God and He began grudgingly to smile is a pagan concept and not Christian…

    ” God is One. Not only is there only one God, but that God is unitary, one with himself, indivisible.

    And the mercy of God is simply God being merciful. And the justice of God is simply God being just. And the love of God is simply God loving. And the compassion of God is simply God being compassionate….

    “It is not something that runs out of God – it is something God is.”
    A W Tozer

    It causes us to tremble…tremble

  27. I’m writing this having read only a few of the comments.

    I am aware, Ian, you are opposed to penal substitution and wrath-bearing atonement. How far your annihilationism is tied into this I’m unsure; they seem to be a package. And so, while wishing to be positive, I find your position concerning. Any one of these would raise a red flag in my mind. All three set the bells ringing for I see these as affecting key aspects of the gospel.

    I know on many matters you are a good representative of evangelicalism. However, since you depart from it in important areas I struggle with the potential damage caused. Add into the equation your view on women in church and I feel the historical evangelical image is being tarnished; evangelical definitions are being bent. St John’s College has rather ‘let the side down’ in some of its theological departures.

    I would regrettably argue that historical evangelical Anglicanism is better represented by Oak Hill and Moore College. Mike Ovey’s book (with Jeffrey and Sach), ‘Pierced for Our transgressions’ expressed the traditional evangelical Anglican view of the atonement which has at its heart wrath-bearing penal substitution. Proclamation Trust and Reform also express classical evangelicalism. How close are links between St John’s and these more traditional expressions of Anglican evangelicalism?

    The historical commitment of Anglican evangelicalism and indeed evangelicalism to wrath-bearing penal substitution is weighty. I wonder how far previous generations would have allowed those who denied it to remain within the evangelical fold? Especially if annihilation were an adjunct.

    Within historical Anglicanism, satisfaction, penal substitution and wrath-bearing are evident.

    Faith documents

    Atonement as propitiation and satisfaction is found in the 39 Articles

    ‘The offering of Christ once made in that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone.’

    The book of Common Prayer 1662 to which all clergy were expected to assent affirms satisfaction as you note.

    ‘…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.’

    While there is nothing explicit about penal substitution in these, in the Homilies, which are recommended reading in the Articles, wrath-bearing penal substitution cannot be missed.

    ‘God sent his only son our Saviour Christ into this world … 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 …


    … whereas all the world was not able of themselves to pay any part towards their ransom, it pleased our heavenly Father of his infinite mercy, without any our desert or deserving, to prepare for us the most precious jewels of Christ’s body and blood, whereby our ransom might be fully paid, the law fulfilled, and his justice fully satisfied.


    ‘And yet, I say, did Christ put himself between GOD’S deserved wrath, and our sin, and rent that obligation wherein we were in danger to GOD, and paid our debt (Colossians 2.14).


    ‘Let us know for a certainty, that if the most dearly beloved Son of GOD was thus punished and stricken for the sin which he had not done himself: how much more ought we sore to be stricken for our daily and manifold sins which we commit against GOD,


    ‘For if GOD (saith Saint Paul) hath not spared his own Son from pain and punishment, but delivered him for us all unto the death: how should he not give us all other things with him (Romans 8.32)?


    ‘… even then did Christ the Son of God, by the appointment of his Father, come down from heaven, to be wounded for our sakes, to be reputed with the wicked, to be condemned unto death, to take upon him the reward of our sins, and to give his Body to be broken on the Cross for our offences.’


‘Was not this a manifest token of God’s great wrath and displeasure towards sin, that he could be pacified by no other means, but only by the sweet and precious blood of his dear Son?’

    The Homilies speak for themselves. Anglicanism advocates wrath-bearing punishment in the atonement. PSA (penal substitutionary atonement) is beyond doubt a feature of historical Anglicanism.

    Anglican divines

    Prominent evangelical anglicans over the centuries have advocated wrath-bearing penal substitution. John Stott, leader of both anglican evangelicals and evangelicalism in general, clearly taught PSA. J I Packer was a champion of it over many years. Borrowing somewhat from Machen he wrote, ‘As I grow old, I want to tell everyone who will listen: ‘I am so thankful for the penal substitutionary death of Christ. No hope without it.‘ Others include N T Wright, not noted for holding to a position just because it is traditional The late John Richardson also promoted PSA.

    Moving a little further back and we have T.C Hammond , HCG Moule, J C and Ryle as Anglican exponents of PSA. Further back still are John and Charles Wesley, George Whitfield, Charles Simeon

    Thomas Watson, a Puritan eventually forced out of the C of E, in his Body of Divinity, writes.

    “He [Christ] was pressed in the wine-press of his Father’s wrath.  this causes that vociferation and outcry on the cross, ‘My God, my God, [why hast thou deserted me?’]..Christ felt the pains of hell in his soul, though not locally, yet equivalently.’..He suffered, that he might satisfy God’s justice for us.  We by our sins, had infinitely wronged God; and, could we have shed rivers of tears, offered up millions of holocausts and burnt-offerings, we could never have pacified an angry deity; therefore Christ must die, that God’s justice may be satisfied…Thou it were his own Son,. the Son of his love, and our sins were but imputed to him, yet God did not spare him, but his wrath did flame against him, Rom 8:32…No sooner did Christ die, but God’s anger was pacified.”

    In evangelical circles of most hues PSA was simply unquestioned orthodoxy. John Owen, Stephen Carnock, Robert Haldane, C H Spurgeon; James Denney, W Still, Gresham Machen, John Murray, FF Bruce, I Howard Marshall, Leon Morris, ML Jones, Carl F Henry, Donald Barnhouse and Billy Graham to name only a few saw PSA as an integral, even central, part of the atonement while acknowledging there were other facets too Many more names could be added. For them PSA was not a theory of the atonement but a biblical doctrine of the atonement.

    Penal substitution was a flashpoint in Protestant circles but it was a flashpoint between evangelicals and liberals not evangelicals and evangelicals. Is it not this that created the divide in IVF creating two groups UCCF and SCM (evangelicals and liberals)? According to Packer it is. PSA was considered a doctrine fundamental enough to divide over. To many, even today, this is understandable.

    A few statements from earlier in Church history reveal PSA was not simply a product of the Reformation. Antiquity was not without advocates of PSA.

    Augustine of Hippo (c. 354-430)

    ‘But as Christ endured death as man, and for man; so also, Son of God as He was, ever living in His own righteousness, but dying for our offences, He submitted as man, and for man, to bear the curse which accompanies death. And as He died in the flesh which He took in bearing our punishment, so also, while ever blessed in His own righteousness, He was cursed for our offences, in the death which He suffered in bearing our punishment.’

    ‘For even the Lord was subject to death, but not on account of sin: He took upon him our punishment, and so looseth our guilt. . . . Now, as men were lying under this wrath by reason of their original sin . . . there was need for a mediator, that is for a reconciler, who by the offering of one sacrifice, of which all the sacrifices of the law and the prophets were types, should take away this wrath. . . . Now when God is said to be angry, we do not attribute to him such a disturbed feeling as exists in the mind of an angry man; but we call his just displeasure against sin by the name “anger,” a word transferred by analogy from human emotions.’ (Exposition of Psalm 51)

    Gregory the Great (540-604)

    ‘It is to be explained, however, how God can be just, how he disposes all things wisely, if he condemns the one who does not deserve punishment. Our Redeemer surely should not be punished on his own account, because he did not do anything to bring guilt upon himself. But if he did not accept a death he did not deserve, he would never free us from the death we deserve. The Father is just; he punishes the just one. All his arrangements are just; therefore, he justifies every thing because he condemns the sinless one for the sake of sinners. All the chosen will rise to reach the summit of justice, because he who is above all things accepted the condemnation wrought by our injustice.’

    Thomas Aquinas

    God’s severity is thus manifested; he was unwilling to remit sin without punishment, as the apostle intimates when he says, He did not spare even his own Son. But it also illustrates God’s goodness, for as man was unable to make sufficient satisfaction through any punishment he might himself suffer, God gave him one who would satisfy for him.

    Christ interceded as his advocate, took upon himself and suffered the punishment that, from God’s righteous judgement, threatened all sinners; that he purged with his blood those evils which had rendered sinners hateful to God; that by this expiation he made satisfaction and sacrifice duly to God the Father; that as intercessor he appeases God’s wrath; that on this foundation rests the peace of God with men.

    These are hefty testimonies that should not be lightly dismissed. Wrath-bearing penal substitution has a long pedigree. But what of the biblical case? Geoff has already given a number of the arguments. I’m going to try to be very lean since this comment is already far too long.

    Biblical pointers

    Sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin he condemned sin in the flesh. Roms 8. The language of condemnation is forensic.

    2. The Levitical sacrificial system with its blood sacrifices is part of a covenant that is essentially forensic; it is law. It would be scarcely meaningful in this context to have atonement for sin without punishment. Moreover covenant curses lay at the heart of a broken covenant; the law brings wrath (Roms 4:15). These curses involve punishments of suffering, exile and death.

    Unlike S Travis, I think wrath-bearing punishment is clearly closely connected to blood sacrifice. Both the flood and the exodus were occasions where blood sacrifice averts wrath and death,. Blood sacrifices (sacrificial violent death), life violently ended, imply sin and its wages. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission (forgiveness) for sins; death is the reparation necessary for forgiveness to flow The grisly blood sacrifice – the life taken – made atonement (Lev 17:11). This is explicit in the sin and guilt offerings. They bring forgiveness (Lev 4). Forgiveness implies prior guilt and an offended party. Reparation is made in the death of the unblemished animal, The hands laid on the animal both identify the offerer with the offering and transfer the sin from the offerer to the animal. Sin is impurity that needs to be cleansed but at it is also guilt that needs forgiven; it demands a ransom. It is a holocaust, a burnt offering that so pleases God that his heart is turned from anger to blessing (Cf. Gen 9). This penal substitutionary meaning (God punishing his Son in order to avoid punishing humanity) is evident in Isaiah. We read,

    But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isa 53:5)

    he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? (Isa 53;8)

    Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, (Isa 53:10).

    As a result of the sacrifice of the servant God says,

    “This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah. should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you. 10 For the mountains may depart. and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”. says the LORD, who has compassion on you. (Isa 54:9,10)

    In some way the sacrifice averts wrath.

    In the NT this sacrifice is described as a propitiation. Its difficult to believe the word is intended to be completely expunged of ideas that belonged to its normal usage. Sacrifice. Was about appeasement, It was propitious, If appeasement is not intended surely another word would have been more appropriate to prevent misunderstanding. Divine appeasement seems almost certainly to be implied. It is the mercy seat (God’s judicial throne) covered blood that he may indeed be merciful. In fact, it is the wrath of God in Roms 1:18 that necessitates the propitiatory sacrifice in 3:25.

    It is impossible to read the OT prophets and miss God’s wrath which in some books almost completely dominates (Jeremiah). This wrath is not dispassionate and anemic but rather the opposite. It is full-blooded, fearsome and unfettered fury. And rightly so. I’m not sure I’d think much of a Holy God who looked on sin without his holy nature being aroused. Are we not aroused by injustice? I’d think less of a God whose administration of justice was bloodless and detached.. God is objective and just, but not disinterested, like Christ, he loves righteousness and hates lawlessness. He reacts with divine fury to sin . Divine wrath in the OT is very active (Cf. Isa 24; 2 Kings 17:18; Numbs 32:10-20). There are probably more references to the wrath of God than the love of God. In Scripture. Certainly the prophets leave us without doubt his wrath is to be reckoned with. His love is paramount but his wrath is persistent. God is angry with the wicked every day (Ps 7:11).

    3. Death is a penalty. The wages of sin is death. The soul that sins shall die. Death is the penalty for sin. Death is penal. If Jesus died then this death was penal. Isaiah sees punishment as integral to the servant’s vicarious experience; the chastisement/punishment that brought us peace was laid on him (Isa 53:5). Death is judicial wrath meted on Christ despite mocking caricatures to the contrary. Packer is surely right when he says,

    ‘smartypants notions like “divine child abuse”, as a comment on the cross, are supremely silly, and as irrelevant and wrong as they could possibly be.’

    4. Exile is a visitation of divine wrath and judgement. Christ recapitulates Israel’s spiritual journey. Israel’s sin led to the covenant penalties (curses) being enacted involving deep suffering and exile. This holocaust was to ‘atone’ (Isa 27:9) and exhaust God’s righteous burning and overflowing wrath. Israel is the ‘people of his wrath’. A ‘day of the Lord’ is a day of his cruel and fierce anger… a day of punishment (Isa 13). God raises up foreign nations as the rod of his anger; the Babylonians ravage and exile the nation; God, they believe, has forsaken them (Isa 49:14). Clearly this ‘day of the Lord’ is enacted at the cross. Judicial wrath is active at the cross just as it was in the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile; God lays on the true Israel (my servant) the iniquity of us all. Jesus enters the far country of forsakenness. Interestingly both immolation and banishment are dramatised in the two goats on the day of atonement. Violent death and exile are exhibited in the key annual Levitical sacrifice. Violent death and exile is judicial wrath.

    Tied closely to this is the ‘cup that the Father has given me to drink’. It is regularly in the OT a cup of wrath (Jer 25:15-17; Ps 75:8 ; Isa 51:17,22; Lam 4:21).

    5. The psalms reveal the judicial wrath the messianic Davidic king experiences.

    But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed. 39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant you have defiled his crown in the dust. 40 You have breached all his walls; you have laid his strongholds in ruins.

    Perhaps another OT example of judicial wrath at work may be helpful. Numbers 25. God’s ‘fierce’ anger is kindled against Israel because of idolatry and compromised relationships.

    1 While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel. 4 And the LORD said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the LORD, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.” 5 And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.”

    6 And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. 7 When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand 8 and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. 9 Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand. 10 And the LORD said to Moses, 11 “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. 12 Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, 13 and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.’”

    Phinehas atones and so turns back God’s wrath. This is the relational context in which we must understand sin, wrath, judgement and atonement. We struggle with judicial wrath because our God is not sufficiently the God of the OT. Episodes like this must inform our understanding of the dynamics of atonement.


    Satisfaction is found in the 39 Articles. I think satisfaction, although including God’s satisfaction that sin is propitiated, is comprehensively about the satisfaction of God’s glory (something akin to honour but much richer). God’s glory is paramount to him. The cross is where God’s glory is supremely glorified. At the cross all aspects of who God is are fully revealed in the context which most perfectly reveals his heart. Further, God is fully glorified in the situation where sin is most fully exposed. Paradoxically, where God’s glory is most attacked it is most revealed. God is satisfied when all that he is is glorified (seen in its true beauty). John’s gospel unpacks this for us (Jn 13:31).

    Let the following hymn sum up my perspective.

    Venantius Fortunatus’s (AD 530–607) hymn, “See the Destined Day Arise,” begins:
    See the destined day arise! See a willing sacrifice!
Jesus, to redeem our loss, hangs upon the shameful cross;
Jesus, who but you could bear wrath so great and justice fair?
Every pang and bitter throe, finishing your life of woe?
    A cross with wrath-bearing punishment has a long pedigree. At the cross the ‘wrath of God is satisfied”.

    Final comment.

    Ian, I find it very disheartening and perplexing that you and others in a few significant areas reject evangelical orthodoxy and, even more importantly as some of us see it, some key aspects of ‘ the faith once and for all delivered to the saints’. Some people who comment on the blog are clearly liberal and in my view unsaved. With this I can cope, The lines ines are clear. However, Ian, you and others stemming from St John’s College and beyond, are not liberals yet you embrace some aspects of liberal theology and I cannot but feel in the long term this will be damaging to evangelicalism. Lines become blurred and truths many generations of evangelicals believed vital are now being displaced and discredited and replaced by views more cat home in liberalism. These changes are, to put it mildly, unhealthy. To people like me they crate a dilemma – if PSA and eternal punishment are key truths of the gospel (as classical evangelicalism has always insisted) then how should I regard those who reject them?

    Are there any at St John’s who hold to penal substation and eternal punishment? Are the two views of the atonement (and of eternal punishment) able to coexist? Can St John’s accommodate and encourage teachers of PSA and eternal punishment or is an atonement shorn of wrath and punishment and an eternity of suffering for the lost the only orthodoxy acceptable?

    • I think a significant number of evangelicals believe certain doctrines because they have been the traditionally accepted understanding and have never thought of questioning such accepted ‘wisdom’. That does not make them correct. Although I tend to agree in penal substitutionary atonement as a key part of what happened on the cross, there are clearly other elements which are rarely mentioned within the traditional understanding. I think the atonement was multifaceted and we shouldnt forget that.

      But I tend to reject the traditional understanding that all those not ‘saved’ will end up suffering eternal conscious torment. Far too many evangelicals take the texts literally, even though the Old Testament clearly shows we should not. But it takes less thinking for the former.

      Other examples where evangelicals/conservatives have likely got it wrong – the whole understanding of the ‘end times’ where they have misunderstood Matthew 24 etc to be referring to the time just before Jesus returns when, as Ian has shown, much of it actually refers to the time leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in the 1st century and is therefore not future. Richard Bauckham in a comment seemed quite shocked that anyone could think otherwise of the traditional view (as held by the likes of FF Bruce whom you mention).

      Another example is the future for the redeemed. The traditional view is typically one of a heavenly existence. But in truth it will be on a renewed earth, with all the physicality of the present raised to a different level.

      Food for thought.


      • Hello Peter,
        There is indeed much to think about, ponder, contemplate.
        John’s comment has prompted me to take down “Pierced for Our Transgressions” from the bookshelf. Have you read it? I was surprised, as I’d forgotten that it mentions the scapegoat of Yom Kippur!
        I think that Ian has really put up a lopsided view of the atonement, even within the confines of a blog. That is of course Ian’s prerogative.
        But, what I’ve not seen is any counter to Steve Chalke and Alan Mann’s book, the Lost Message of Jesus, which implies, insinuates, an emotive cosmic child abuse, particular the cosmic child abuse tilt.
        The quotations from Tozer, in a comment above, is from a book, “The Radical Cross – Living the Passion of Christ, ” which is a collection of essays, one of which is “Coddled or Crucified”. It includes this;
        “Though the cross of Christ has been beautified by the poet and the artist, the avid seeker after God is likely to find it the same savage implement of destruction it was in the days of old. The way of the cross is still the pain-wracked path to spiritual power and fruitfulness,
        “So do not seek to hide from it. Do not accept an easy way. Do not allow yourself to be patted to sleep in a comfortable church, void of power and barren of fruit. Do not paint the cross, nor deck it with flowers. Take it for what it is, as it is, and you will find it the rugged way to death and life. Let it slay you utterly.”

        John’s comment re the divide in IVP, also reminded me of the teaching by Anglican, Dr Michael Reeves on the topic when he was UCCF theologian at large. The division was over the atonement, justification.

        Last, I agree there is much to ruminate over, ponder. John Piper has done this in his “The Passion of Jesus Christ – Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Christ Suffered and Died”, as he takes us in two-page sections of scriptural contemplation. It is freely downloadable from the Desiring God site…
        “What did God achieve for sinners like us in sending his Son to die for us?
        Piper’s aim? “My main aim is to let the Bible speak.”

        Reason 1 “To Absorb the Wrath of God”
        Reason number 24 “To Give Us Confident Access to the Holiest Place2
        Reason 25 “To Become for Us the Place Where We Meet God”.
        Reason 34 “To enable us to live by Faith in Him
        Reason 40 “So that we will be with him immediately after death”
        Reason 41 “To secure our resurrection from the dead”

        And Piper’s life purposes are likely summed up in another short book, “Seeing and Savouring Jesus Christ” as this:
        “When we see Jesus for who he really is, we savour him. That is, we delight in him as true and beautiful and satisfying,
        “That is my goal, because two things flow from such an experience of Jesus Christ: He is honoured and we are freed by joy to walk the narrow way of love.

        “Christ is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. And when we are satisfied in him, we are crucified to the world…

        “In this way, seeing and savouring Jesus will multiply the mirrors of his presence in the world.

        “As the apostle Paul said: We all, with unveiled face, *beholding* the glory of the Lord, are * being changed* into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, RSV)

        “Beholding is becoming, Seeing Christ saves and sanctifies.”

        • Steve Chalk’s understanding is bizarre. He really doesnt comprehend that God is in Christ, suffering and dying. Perhaps he no longer believes in the Trinity but has some warped understanding of God – I wouldnt be surprised given his other stances.

          • Peter movement by Chalke may perhaps be traced to the source – his movement on the cross of Christ and the influence of the Emerging Church movement.
            I recall after preaching, including the cross. what Jesus was doing has done, a longstanding church member, said she’d visited Chalke’s church and she was confused as she had been reminded of her longstanding trust in the accomplishment of Christ. What was preached was also in the context of the Tri-unity of God, and our Union with Christ.
            It is also evident that he employs Higher Criticism in the prosecution of his beliefs.
            And if I recall correctly NT Wright wrote an endorsement for his mentioned book.

      • Peter

        I’ve been thinking about evangelicals believing a number of doctrines with little thought because that is what they ave been taught. I suppose the majority of Christians will do this because they may have neither the time nor capacity to do otherwise. This is one reason why Bible teachers need to be sure they are right in the big issues of the faith at least. The pulpit or even the college are not places to speculate or air half-baked doubts. It is the place for convictions and perhaps honest don’t knows (as long as there are not too many).

        The Bible is of course our sole absolute authority but we should listen to the voices of the main confessions of Protestantism and think seriously before we move far from them. They represent the distilled wisdom of many godly men.

        We have all to give an account for what we have built into the church by way of teaching – is it gold, silver and precious stones or wood hay and stubble. There are some whose teaching is so worthless that they will be saved ‘so as by fire’… there’s that pesky metaphor again.

        Course, that applies to our comments on blog posts too.

        • But many evangelical teachers disagree amongst themselves never mind less conservative ones. John Stott taught that eternal conscious suffering was simply wrong and I agree with him. But other evangelicals disagree. Though I dont view it as a ‘key’ doctrine – either eternal torment, or judgement and then destruction. Of course the former is more frightening but then level of fear is not a criteria for truth.

          ‘This is one reason why Bible teachers need to be sure they are right in the big issues of the faith at least.’ – sorry but this is pretty meaningless as who determines if they are ‘right’ in their understanding? The above is but one example. I respect your view on eternal torment, but I think youre wrong!


          • Perhaps I should have said preachers need to be cautious rather than cavalier in their interpreting. They need to aim for integrity and conscientiousness with a prayerful dependence on the spirit and an awareness of the false motivations of their hearts. This will certainly not result complete unity in doctrine (for our dependence on the Spirit will be frail) but it should certainly help.

            Teachers will be judged more heavily than others which should also sober them.

            Clearly I feel with others that Stott caused damage to evangelical doctrinal unity (and purity) with his ‘tentative’ embracing of annihilationism. Was this not a view propagated in the ‘Bash’ camps?

            The problem is when we are on the innovative side (on the left) and the minority we tend not to view the doctrine we hold as key. We are happy to be magnanimous. When we are in the majority and our view is the establishment and another idea comes from left of field well that;s a different matter.

    • ‘For if GOD (saith Saint Paul) hath not spared his own Son from pain and punishment, but delivered him for us all unto the death: how should he not give us all other things with him (Romans 8.32)?

      But the ref. To Romans 8:32 does not mention punishment

      • The verse does not mention pain either yet he surely knew pain. Isa 53 mentions punishment. Exile is punishment. Death is punishment. Holocaust is punishment.

        Romans 8… God condemns sin in the flesh of Jesus that there may be no condemnation to us who are in Christ Jesus. The language is forensic.

      • Indeed. There is too much reading into the text there than the actual text itself. Translators seem to be guilty of this frequently.

  28. Peter

    You reveal the increasing diversity that goes under the evangelical banner. The question is what is a first order truth over which separation should take place or excommunication. It has been the nature of the last 70 years or so to allow for more and more dissent from beliefs once held sacrosanct. In this we have happily gone along with the spirit of the age; tolerance is the chief virtue.

    I agree the atonement is multifaceted but we shouldn’t allow this to be an excuse to jettison some facets which are part of that kaleidoscope, especially aspects that Scripture makes foundational.

    Personally I think Ian’s preterism is wrong but I see this of a lesser order. I think eternal torment like eternal bliss is just that, eternal. The fact that in both cases imagery is used does not obviate the underlying reality.

    Yes, I think the future of the redeemed has undergone some change. Personally i think in the new heavens and new earth both become in some sense one. Again, this is a lesser issue to my mind. Nothing substantial is at stake. In the past those who stressed a future on earth tended to get quite shallow in their thinking and a bit materialistic while those who stressed heaven tended to envisage a more ethereal existence.

    I appreciate your thoughts on this. I do find what I see as decay in some of these areas troubling. However, it may be we will have greater things to trouble us and will be facing persecution that will test the calibre of the faith of each of us.

    I am thankful that Ian others are willing presently to engage with some potentially threatening issues and find it quite pathetic the stance of someone like Rowan Williams.

  29. On page 212 of his book ‘Christ Alone’ Professor Stephen Wellum wrote:

    ‘In other words, at the cross, the triune God is acting to save us. In the outworking of God’s eternal plan, the Father demonstrates his love by giving us his Son and allowing the sword of justice to fall upon him. The Son, in glad and willing obedience to his Father’s will, chooses to become our new covenant head in his incarnation, life, and entire cross-work for us.
    In his incarnation, our Lord becomes perfectly qualified to represent us and to act as our substitute. As the Son incarnate, he stands in our place bearing the penalty we deserve, which is his own righteous demand against us. Jesus is not a third party dragged in reluctantly to represent us. He, along with the Father and Spirit, is the offended party, he has the right to demand satisfaction from us. But, in grace, the divine incarnate Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, renders perfect human obedience that satisfies his own righteous requirements against us in our place.’

    And in the Calvinist International website an article by Stephen Wedgeworth “Pastorally Speaking the Deep Things of the Cross…………” which includes, among other statements, the following statement:

    “Both natures of Christ were active in His mediation and atonement, each working according to their respective attributes. On the cross, both of Christ’s natures must be addressed, and while they worked together, their acts were distinct. Whatever is said about Christ’s human nature is unique to the Second Person of the Godhead. Whatever is said about Christ’s divine nature is common to the Godhead. Thus as unfamiliar as it may sound, it is correct to say that Christ’s deity was acting in unity with the Father in the act of judging the sin which Christ Himself bore. Jesus is not only making atonement to the Father. He is making atonement to God, the Holy Trinity”.

    I think the implications of these quotes are:

    That the retribution/punishment of the unsaved will be inflicted by all three Persons of the Holy Trinity
    That all three persons of the Holy Trinity are angry with sinners
    That the retribution/punishment Christ bore in his human nature was inflicted by all three Persons of the Holy Trinity
    That the anger of all three Persons of the Holy Trinity was propitiated by Christ’s death

    This incomprehensible mystery is the same mystery as the following:

    When the Person of Christ was a developing embryo in the womb of the Blessed Virgin he was also the Lord God Almighty who ‘throned in height sublime sits amid the cherubim’: when he lay dead in the tomb he continued as the Lord God Almighty to ‘uphold all things by the word of his power’; when he hung on the cross bearing the sins of all those who have or will ever trust him and their retribution he was also, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit the condemning and punishing God.

    Phil Almond

  30. John Thomson – I reckon there is a section within contemporary Anglicanism which reads all language of satisfaction as penal substitution and which looks at penal substitution largely through the lens of wrath-bearing. While historical Anglicanism affirmed all three, it arguably did not reduce satisfaction to penal substitution and did not equate penal substitution with wrath-bearing.

      • Evidence for reductionism is perhaps seen when Jesus making satisfaction is conflated with God’s wrath being turned aside as in “the wrath of God was satisfied”, although I would not want to be too harsh on a hymn (John Stott likely accepted the phrase although it seems that he would consider it inferior to “the justice of God was satisfied” which in turn he did not consider as good as “God himself was satisfied” – see his chapter on satisfaction in The Cross of Christ) and in arguments one can find here and there that Mark 10:45 teaches Christ’s wrath-bearing – a leap that only seems possible by assuming that all substitution is penal substitution and all penal substitution is wrath-bearing.

        Carl Musser’s three blog posts to which Brian Zhang linked above (e.g., https://blogos.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/2021/12/20/recovering-the-classic-concept-of-satisfaction-part-iii/) gives insight into greater differentiation) gives insight into greater differentiation.

    • Hi Thomas, Anglicanism aside, if penal substitution is affirmed, I do not see how it can be other than in a wrath-bearing sense since punishment by God is never bloodless but is always wrathful; it is a holy response to wickedness by the righteous judge.

      • Hi John, the question is whether the various images of the atonement (a phrase, which with John Stott I prefer to “theories”) we find in Scripture are meant to be pressed and interlinked to form one, unified conceptual frame.

        Anglicanism aside, I would affirm that substitution is a key concept that undergirds several images of the atonement in Scripture, certainly not something that Anselm invented. It is not clear to me that the language of punishment is always in view when there is talk of Christ taking our place but to my mind penal substitution is taught in Scripture and not as something marginal either. It seems also clear to me that as a result of Christ’s atoning work we are no longer under God’s wrath.

        But we have to be careful about how the three are correlated. It is not wrong to say that Christ paid the debt we owed or that he bore our punishment but if we assume that this means that our debt was *satisfied* rather than having been *discharged* (see Carl Mosser for the distinction) or insist that Christ suffered the exact punishment that I should have suffered we seem to go beyond Scripture and if we then link this to the wrath of God with something like “God was angry with me but Christ diverted this anger upon himself so that God’s anger is now all spent (satisfied)” we speak a different language from that spoken in the Bible.

          • Thomas Renz (April 15 10.34 pm) and Ian Paul (April 16 7.30 am) raise in my mind some important questions.

            Thomas says “….but to my mind penal substitution is taught in Scripture and not as something marginal either” and “ It is not wrong to say that Christ paid the debt we owed or that he bore our punishment…”, but he also says that to “… insist that Christ suffered the exact punishment that I should have suffered”, “we seem to go beyond scripture”. So what is the doctrine of penal substitution according to Thomas? As I see it, it is the truth that because of our sins we deserve to be punished by God but Christ bore that punishment on the cross so that those who have repented and trusted in Christ and those who in the future will repent and trust in Christ no longer face that punishment. If that is also Thomas’ view I do not understand why he also says that to “… insist that Christ suffered the exact punishment that I should have suffered”, “we seem to go beyond scripture”. If Thomas does not agree with my definition above of penal substitution, perhaps he could give his view please. And, perhaps Ian could give his view in the light of his endorsement of Thomas’ post?

            Phil Almond

          • Thomas
            Many thanks for your quick reply, which suggests we agree on the right definition of the doctrine of penal substitution (although “I see no reason to object” is somewhat short of “I agree”!). but I have now quickly skim-read the Carl Musser item and noticed he says at one point: “Christ’s wrath-bearing experience is not portrayed as the effect of a retributive act of the Father directed against his Son. Nor is it limited to the passion and crucifixion.” This prompts me to wonder whether we do agree, assuming that you agree with all that Carl says.

            When I said “it is the truth that because of our sins we deserve to be punished by God but Christ bore that punishment on the cross…..” the “we” is all Christians, so, we can all say personally, “Christ bore my deserved punishment (retribution inflicted by God (I should have included this phrase in my post)) on the cross”. This is in direct contradiction to the quote from Carl in this post, “Christ’s wrath-bearing experience…directed against his Son”. Just to complicate the debate I gave my controversial view in an earlier post that this retribution was inflicted by the Trinity not the Father alone. I welcome a further reply from you to clarify the position please.

            Phil Almond

          • Phil, “Christ’s wrath-bearing experience is not portrayed as the effect of a retributive act of the Father directed against his Son. Nor is it limited to the passion and crucifixion.” channels Calvin’s Institutes 2.16:

            Without denying a legitimate focus on Chris’s death, nevertheless “When it is asked then how Christ, by abolishing sin, removed the enmity between God and us, and purchased a righteousness which made him favourable and kind to us, it may be answered generally, that he accomplished this by the whole course of his obedience…In short, from the moment when he assumed the form of a servant, he began, in order to redeem us, to pay the price of deliverance.” (5)


            “We do not, however, insinuate that God was ever hostile to [Christ] or angry with him. How could he be angry with the beloved Son, with whom his soul was well pleased? or how could he have appeased the Father by his intercession for others if He were hostile to himself? But this we say, that he bore the weight of the divine anger, that, smitten and afflicted, he experienced all the signs of an angry and avenging God.” (11)

            I believe this to be a nuanced statement of how Christ reconciled us with God by making atonement on the cross to which his perfect obedience led. He offered to God the perfect obedience we owed but failed to give him and suffered a punishment that God graciously accepted in lieu of the punishment we deserved to receive.

            The nuance is important. I personally can (perhaps just about) make sense of “the wrath of God was satisfied” even if I consider it to infelicitously phrased. God’s goodness entails a hostility to evil which demands that good and evil are not treated equally. Evil incurs a moral debt, deserves punishment, requires satisfaction. OT authors use the language of God being angry apparently in order to stress that all this is not a matter of a cold, calculated, abstract justice but that God is personally, passionately involved in reward and punishment. He *loves* good, he *hates* evil. (The NT authors arguably speak about “God’s anger” in a more abstract sense, as does the Getty/Townend hymn which similar to the NT uses the nominal phrase only and does not imply that the Father was angry with the Son.)

            While it would be wrong to think of God as being without love and hate, it would also be wrong to think of God’s love and hate as something that needs or could be satisfied (which is why I cannot make good sense of “the love of God was satisfied” – God’s love is overflowing, it never comes to an end, is never satisfied [nor does his hatred of evil ever come to an end]).

            And this is how “the wrath of God was satisfied” could be badly misunderstood, namely if we picture God as having this wrathful emotion towards us because of our wrongdoing which he somehow needs to vent and the Son comes and says “beat me up instead” and God beats up Jesus, thereby satisfying his wrath (“I feel better now that I have shown how much I hate evil by beating someone up”). I am of course not saying that you hold to such a crude and false depiction but separating the suffering and death on the cross from the life of obedience that led to alongside with speaking about The Father (or the Trinity) directing a retributive act against the Son could lend itself too readily to such a “lightening rod transfer” view of PSA which is not, I believe, what the Bible teaches (or the early church or Anselm or Calvin or Cranmer or the Westminster Confession of Faith).

          • Hello Thomas
            Thanks again for replying.
            You said “It is not wrong to say that Christ paid the debt we owed or that he bore our punishment…”, so you agree that “he bore our punishment”. But you have not said whether you agree that the punishment that Christ bore was inflicted by God. Do you agree? If you do, we are agreed. If you do not agree, I have to ask who inflicted the punishment that Christ bore?

            Phil Almond

          • Hello Thomas
            I can’t check your assertion about Anselm, Calvin, Cranmer or the WCF without prolonged search, but I think the right exegesis of Romans 8:3 supports my view: “For the impossible thing of the law, in which it was weak through the flesh, God sending the Son of himself in likeness of flesh of sin and concerning sin condemned sin in the flesh…..”. Moo comments (page 481), “The interpretation that best meets the criteria above sees the condemnation of sin to consist in God’s executing his judgment on sin in the atoning death of his Son. As our substitute, Christ was ‘made sin for us’ and suffered the wrath of God, the judgment of God upon that sin (cf. hilasterion in Romans 3:25; Galatians 3:13). Schreiner and Stott seem to agree.
            Phil Almond

          • The punishment was inflicted on Jesus by the Romans at the instigation of the Jewish religious authorities but it was God’s plan that Jesus should suffer this injustice. In this sense it could be said that God inflicted the punishment although this is not quite how the apostles put it. I have not read the various commentaries on this passage but at first sight “God inflicted on Jesus the punishment we deserved” seems a long way from the focus of Romans 8.

            Romans 6: We have a body that is subject to sin and (therefore) death.

            Romans 7: The law identifies sin but our flesh uses this as an incitement to sin more, delivering us to death.

            Romans 8: God does something the law could not do. He breaks the nexus between sin and death for us. How does he do that? By condemning sin in the flesh! How so? By sending his Son who takes the likeness of sinful flesh and suffers the punishment for sin, namely death, but does so as someone who fulfilled the just requirement of the law in his flesh and who was therefore not liable to death.

            Sin itself is condemned in its overreach (having caused the death of the sinless one) and death is unable to hold on to what is not its legitimate prey (the sinless one. In union with Christ our sin is condemned and yet our death must give way to resurrection life. For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

          • But Thomas, you said ‘he bore our punishment’! Surely that means that he bore the punishment we deserved, that God will inflict on the unsaved at the Final Judgement. Or do you not believe that either?

            Phil Almond

          • Sure, he bore our punishment and, yes, consequently we will not have to bear the punishment we deserved and can be confident on the day of the Final Judgement when deserved punishment will be imposed on those who are not in Christ.

          • Thomas
            But if God will inflict punishment on the unsaved and Christ bore that punishment instead of us bearing it, how can the punishment that Christ bore not have been inflicted by God? Surely that is what ‘substitution’ means and you have said you believe in penal substitution.

            Phil Almond

        • Thomas

          ‘Suffered the exact punishment’… I am not defining how God laid on him the iniquity of us all or how the chastisement that brought us peace was realised, I’m simply saying there was substitution and the substitution was about punishment and the punishment involved wrath. Beyond that there may be opinions but probably not dogmatism (unless at the moment I’m forgetting something important,

          Having said that, I do think that in the death of Christ for the believer the wrath of God is satisfied. Wrath take to be an expression of his holiness. It is less a primary attribute and more the holy response of his holiness to sin. Perhaps we could say it is the appropriate response of his justice to injustice, of his love to hate, off his wisdom to folly, of his kingship to treason, of his crematoria fatherhood to rebellion and of his glory to its deface.

          In this sense to say the wrath of God is satisfied is to say that all the aspects of his nature that have excited his wrath have been satisfied.

          • John, I agree that we have to be very careful in defining how Christ’s suffering averts God’s wrath from us by offering the punishment we deserve for our sins (and we have to remember that there are very different, legitimate ways to speak about Christ’s accomplishment).

            As I said above, I can make sense of the phrase “the wrath of God is satisfied” (pretty much in the way you describe, I think), although I think it is infelicitously phrased and open to misunderstanding.

            Phil Almond, by contrast, cannot see a way in which one may be able to affirm PSA without saying that on the cross God was angry with and/or inflicted punishment on Jesus. Ironically, this gives me more sympathy for those who reject PSA, even though I still think few of the people who reject PSA bother engaging with the best of the tradition.

          • In his article Ian Paul quotes as follows from Stephen Travis’ revised Christ and the Judgement of God:

            “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)”

            What does Stephen Travis mean by ‘retributive punishment’? If he means the retributive punishment of the unsaved on/after the Day of Judgment then how can that not be central to Paul’s understanding, because that is the big thing that the unsaved should fear? And how can that retributive punishment not be inflicted by God? Also it would contradict his statement “The meaning of the cross is not that God punished his Son in order to avoid punishing humanity….”. So what does he mean by that phrase? According to Romans 3:5-6 ‘wrath’ is inflicted by God.

            By the way, nobody as far as I know who believes that penal substitution is a central idea/theory/model of the atonement believes it is the only idea/theory/model.

            Phil Almond

  31. When St.Paul defended himself against the Sadducee’s and the Pharisees he famously brought up the bone of contention, ‘the resurrection.’ I feel Ian Paul has done a similar thing here. In the end Jesus work on the cross appeals to every heart, intellectual or otherwise. Wherever one starts the journey of faith the end is the same: union with Christ, a seat next to His on his throne. Doctrine, cleverly worded and worked out is, in the end, a ring fence, a barrier to fellowship. By adopting a ‘position’ one hopes to only fellowship with like minded souls and exclude contrary ones. Probably a necessary evil. How could we know who ‘we’ are if we can’t exclude others from our club?

    • What work on the cross?

      The question is how easy it is to live with what you consider false doctrine being taught (quite apart from how right it is to so do).

      • Jesus said, “my father is working and I AM working”
        Is not their work of salvation seen for all to see on the cross?
        Is this an answer :)?
        Mathew Henry said it’s good to put the best construct on the preaching one hears.
        We are surrounded by so great a cloud of misinformation these days it’s hard to know where to take a stand…

        • Steve

          The work of salvation is seen at the cross but tied into it is ‘how’ salvation’ works.
          Isaiah 53 is the quite astonishing revelation that a human being will be an atoning sacrifice who will be punished for the sins of his people.

          Salvation is not attained by simply believing in Jesus… it is among other things specifically Christ crucified and what his crucifixion achieved. At least some basic understanding of substitution seems vital.

          If someone says I believe Jesus was crucified as an example of passive submission to human government for others to follow and this is the sum of what they believe the cross is about is theirs a saving faith?

          • Belief is one step, confession is the second. There are many more.
            This debate seeks to sort through the different understandings some have by analysing the layers peeled off the gift of grace.
            I’m intrigued by your deep understanding and can’t stop reading this blog. Thanks you ,and P. B.
            Personally I’m shocked by how my understanding of scripture fails to produce much fruit.

            The wine press of God’s Wrath was trod alone . The fruit of His work created a river of blood. Deep enough to be baptised into but not so deep that one whose neck is stiff could try to cross it head held high. As high as a horses bridle.

    • Steve,
      “The best fellowship together is fellowship together with God”. Matthew Henry.
      I haven’t a clue what our church members believe, but I know what our leaders believe and teach. I know the rich biblical teaching that pervades our midweek groups, as we are going through John’s gospel. And we are such a disparate lot, from near and far, multinational/cultural. The Biblical warnings against false teaching, if believed and heeded, would dissuade many.
      It is so far different from groups I’ve been part of where opinions abounded, rather than being focussed on what scripture says and provides answers to the questions posed by the group leader. Primarily, it is scripture interpreting scripture.
      Speaking about opinion, I recall a GP member of a group, quipping that when you get 4 GP’s in a room you get 12 different opinions. I think he’d have to increase his opinions to make it in leadership in the CoE, and to make a name for himself as a theologian, even while expert theologians do have a condensed scope or range of beliefs, hidden though they may be in winsomeness or avoidance, or the abundance of words. Nettles aren’t often grasped.
      As for Union with Christ, it was mentioned today, albeit briefly in passing, in our all -age Good Friday service.
      I know of one Reformed Scottish Presbyterian Theologian, who would subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith, and Penal Substitution (he endorsed Pierced For Our Transgressions- as a sure-footed guide to the message of the cross- and therefore to Christ himself, and ultimately to God the Trinity) who majors on Union with Christ, the offer is of Christ Himself, a Union with Him, as perhaps the starting point; Dr Sinclair B Ferguson! There is a starting point – the Person of Christ and the effectual application of his life, death and resurrection to the personal lives of every individual, all humanity, from their own life histories and lives lived.

  32. Peter movement by Chalke may perhaps be traced to the source – his movement on the cross of Christ and the influence of the Emerging Church movement.
    I recall after preaching, including the cross. what Jesus was doing has done, a longstanding church member, said she’d visited Chalke’s church and she was confused as she had been reminded of her longstanding trust in the accomplishment of Christ. What was preached was also in the context of the Tri-unity of God, and our Union with Christ.
    It is also evident that he employs Higher Criticism in the prosecution of his beliefs.
    And if I recall correctly NT Wright wrote an endorsement for his mentioned book.

      • John,
        Given Chalke’ s theological trajectory, he may now have reservations, and he may now be more circumspect. Wright’s name wasn’t mentioned to corroborate Chalke, but as a cautionary reflection on some of Wright’s writings on New Perspectives.

        • Steve Chalke claimed NT Wright’s support in writing The Lost Message of Jesus.

          The front cover displays Wright’s endorsement.

          The contents parade Wright’s ‘revolution’ paradigm.

          The trouble is that when Chalke writes it is half digested.

          There was a story that Scarlatti (nephew) wrote a memorial piece for the death of Scarlatti (uncle) to which the verdict was ‘Hmm, very good, very good. But wouldn’t it have been better if *you* had died and your *uncle* had written the music?’ In this case it would have been better if Wright had written the book and Chalke had endorsed it.

          • Thanks for the laugh Christopher.
            The way of Christian book endorsements seems to be, if C cites W approvingly and in support of the book’s big idea, W approvingly, endorses C’s book. Symbiotic.
            So then, C’s supporters may read W’s books, vice versa.
            It seems to happen regularly in the Christian book publishing world.

            Christopher, I don’t think Wright would have come up with the highly contested phrase and though he’d be aware of the Emerging church movement, it is highly unlikely he’d be influenced by its leanings.

          • It was the other way round – the Emerging Church regarded Wright (whose crossdenominational reach is terrific) as a sort of guru. Many groups are transient but the EC was determinedly transient, of all things.

    • Chalke employs his arguments badly with less and less credible reference to Scripture. It’s hard to believe he really has any concern what the Bible teaches either that or he has a remarkable ability to misinterpret Scripture according to his tastes.

      I note he has headed the recent letter to the PM complaining that CT for transgenders is not included in the bill. Rowan Williams is one of the signatories.

  33. ‘Doctrine, cleverly worded and worked out is, in the end, a ring fence, a barrier to fellowship’.
    Not so. Doctrine is about the truths of the Christian faith. People may err in doctrine and still be ‘known-to-God’ Christians but doctrine is still important. And certain doctrines may be pastorally important. For instance the doctrine (truth) that Christ bore the eternal punishment that I deserve and propitiated the wrath of God is important to me because I believe that I I do deserve eternal punishment because of my sins and that I did face the wrath of God from birth onwards because of the Fall.

    Phil Almond

    • I mean that doctrine can be used to help or hinder. It was used by Paul like a cat amongst pigeons to help his defence. Doctrine on penal substitution is an appropriate metaphor in certain circumstances, perhaps not in others. It’s an analogy. The Mystery is greater than anything we can construct. Paul was attempting to portray salvation in his terms, legal terms, life experience terms. He did a Spirit endorsed, excellent job. It appeals to the learned. Some might respond to a different model. To be inflexible on this is to miss something. Peter and John are placed after StPaul as an antidote to being too clever by half (which Paul was) . “Little children love one another” comes after all the Pauline logic. Thyatiran Christians use iron rods of doctrine to smash arguments. Smyrnan doctrine breaks itself to release the fragrance of salvation. Both valid. Not exclusive.

    • I think it can be a barrier to fellowship. Doctrine is one of the reasons that there exist several hundred Protestant denominations all thinking ‘they have got it right’.

      • Hello Chris,
        Are you the only one marching in step? In your Baptist denomination.? Have you got it right? Or what have you got right, so right that you preach/teach?
        I’d suggest that we are all fundamentalist, but do not agree what the fundamentals are. Or, as what Eric Ortlund has expressed in a book, “Finding the Right Hills to Die On- The Case For Theological Triage.”

          • Steve,
            There’s an eternal difference between being dead in our tresspasses and sins and having died in Christ.
            True triage is Trinitarian.

        • Hi Geoff. Not al all. I agree with you. I count my own denomination has being guilty of the same. I certainly don’t think Baptist’s have got it all right and our Declaration of Principle seems to me theologically schizophrenic at times, although historically, it was mooted in part to maintain unity among different strands of Baptist orthodoxy (although its become a bit stretched of late).

          I was responding to Phil’s assertion that doctrine isn’t a barrier to fellowship. I don’t think that is true and the number of protestant denomination we have is strong evidence of that and although some manage to work together, each keeps its own boundaries and it’s ‘hills to die on’.

        • ‘I’d suggest that we are all fundamentalist, but do not agree what the fundamentals are.’

          Absolutely. Well put Geoff.

      • Yet Paul recognises in 2 Timothy that it would be necessary in a mixed multitude church for true believers to depart from iniquity (false teachers) and meet with those that call upon the name of the Lord out of a pure heart. Sounds schismatic doesn’t it, It’s Pauline guidance in the face of a corrupt church.

  34. We are engraved on the palms of his hands.
    Who would have thought that He would do it, and do it with nails?
    Self inflicted.
    Another example of something forbidden in the O T but redefined and made holy by Jesus

    • And Steve,
      I could easily have missed it, but we’ve got this far and it is the first time that word – holy- has been mentioned.
      Holy God, Holy Trinity, Holy -Love: Holy, Holy, Holy. Holy One – a repeating theme in Isaiah.
      How have we all got this far without any consideration?

      • Yes. It’s on my mind lately. How Jesus fulfils everything , even turning the forbidden things into wholesome things. Now the latest for me is the prohibition of marking the body, tattoos to scars. Made holy in Him, on Him.
        At the moment my thoughts are in Rev4. I’m trying to come up with a diagrammatically appropriate design that fits the words.

        • Not on Rev 4, Steve, but, perhaps, with a nod back to creation, on Easter (Sabbath – It is finished- Saturday) to a new creation in Christ and a nod to night and day creation.
          Maybe, here is a Psalm for Easter Saturday:
          Psalm 139

          • This psalm does seem to be a prophetic conversation between Jesus and the Holy Spirit despite the obvious human markers. It’s like an insight into a holy communion , a brief look at a very private dialogue between them. Almost the point where Jesus , having grown in stature and wisdom, is able to comprehend His divinity and humanity for the first time. ?.. Jesus is the One, planned before all time , to BE.

          • Ah yes. But some details upset a logical pattern. The Eagle has its wings in flight so what are the other three living beings doing with 5heir wings?

            No Wrath is present that’s for sure…well not until the seals are opened

          • I think wrath is probably symbolised by the thundering and lightnings… or at least the awesome, dangerous holiness of Sinai

  35. I came across this from Spurgeon recently that has really helped my thinking. He is preaching about the three hours’ darkness:

    “This darkness also warns us, even us who are most reverent. This darkness tells us all that the Passion is a great mystery, into which we cannot pry. I try to explain it as substitution, and I feel that where the language of Scripture is explicit, I may and must be explicit too. But yet I feel that the idea of substitution does not cover the whole of the matter, and that no human conception can completely grasp the whole of the dread mystery. It was wrought in darkness, because the full, far-reaching meaning and result cannot be beheld of finite mind. Tell me the death of the Lord Jesus was a grand example of self-sacrifice — I can see that and much more. Tell me it was a wondrous obedience to the will of God — I can see that and much more. Tell me it was the bearing of what ought to have been borne by myriads of sinners of the human race, as the chastisement of their sin—I can see that, and found my best hope upon it. But do not tell me that this all that is in the cross. No, great as this would be, there is much more in our Redeemer’s death. God only knows the love of God: Christ only knows all that he accomplished when he bowed his head and gave up the ghost. There are common mysteries of nature into which it were irreverence to pry; but this is a divine mystery, before which we put our shoes from off our feet, for the place called Calvary is holy ground. God veiled the cross in darkness, and in darkness much of its deeper meaning lies; not because God would not reveal it, but because we have not capacity enough to discern it all. God was manifest in the flesh, and in that human flesh he put away sin by his own sacrifice: this we all know; but “without controversy great is the mystery of godliness.”” The Spurgeon Library | The Three Hours’ Darkness

  36. How Deep the Father’s Love for Us – another Townend song that has been under some scrutiny this Easter for the line – the Father turns his face away; does it suppose a separation within the Trinity?
    There is a current twitter feed from Fred Sanders, with a further link to his essay here:

    With thanks to Andrew J Wilson’s twitter account.

    • …the distracting rumours of broken trinities…
      Yes, but to justify myself I still think that a broken heart, The City ruptured three ways, is metaphorically true, even if technically it fails on some theological test. He, God, died for me. What happened at that moment? Who knows? Perhaps even God did not know precicely but trusted in Himself.
      Anyway, I’ve promised someone not to use philosophy to argue theology….

  37. Turn the other cheek, said Jesus.
    He is the other cheek.
    First God accepted a slap on the face in the OT.
    Then in Christ he turned the other and we obligingly smashed it.
    He allowed us to vent our incessant fury on him until we could pursue him no further. He escaped only when death intervened and His Spirit broke.

    The trinity took all we could throw at Him.

    The Holy Spirit takes the brunt of humanity’s hostility today.

  38. Is not The Wrath concept like The Kingdom of Heaven?
    In as much as they are both now and yet to come things.
    That is The Wrath is pacified for now but yet will be.
    Eventually however , will this aspect of God’s nature be forever put to one side or will it forever be a wall of fire between He and everything Other?

    • Addendum

      Perhaps the walls of the New Jerusalem are made of Wrath. They look like transparent gold, like solid fire. They protect those within and simultaneously exclude those without. Thus the attribute of God , His Wrath is to us a wall of fire and to the outsiders an impenetrable barrier . A solid reminder in perpetuity of his Love.

    • Yes, Steve, I think this is one way in which the line “the wrath of God was satisfied” can be misunderstood. God’s hostility to evil has not ceased with Christ’s death on the cross – how could it, given that it is an entailment of his love for those harmed and/or corrupted by evil?

      • This is all to the good, as the ink spilt on this line has brought the thought to a far higher level of precision than ever the 2 writers would have managed.

  39. On the whole subject of whether hymns have “got it right”, one hears of those who sing “Lord” instead of “God” in ‘That thou, my God, shouldst die for me’ and are nervous about ‘Tis mystery all, the immortal dies’ in the same Charles Wesley hymn. Others blanch at ‘And that a higher gift than grace’ in Newman’s ‘Praise to the holiest in the height’. Others come forward to defend them. And so on and so on …

    Do we have a bit of sympathy for those Christian groups who sing the Psalter, the whole Psalter and nothing but the Psalter? Brave is (s)he these days who ventures to write a hymn.

  40. I have only recently found this blog, and it’s an interesting discussion. It’s my impression that many participants here are ‘experts’, which I’m not. While I have no trouble accepting e.g. Rom 5:6-8, which gives in general terms that ‘Christ died for us’, I have found explanations of exactly how that works unsatisfactory.

    Let me explain what I heard, from numerous evangelistic sermons held at IVF and other events. It may not be what the preacher intended to say, but it’s how I systematised what he said.

    There is a General Principle of Penal Substitution (GPPS) which allows (under certain circumstances) that if A is guilty of a crime then justice is satisfied if instead an innocent person B receives the penalty. The usual example is that A has to pay a fine which he cannot afford, and B (who is also the judge) pays the fine instead. The atonement is an instance of this principle at work; here A is us, B is Jesus, who is also the judge, and the penalty is death and separation from God.

    My difficulty with the above is that I do not see any reason to accept GPPS. (As I have stated it GPSS is very broad, and perhaps many who do accept penal substitution would not accept GPPS.) If GPPS is true then we could know it is true from 3 possible sources: reason, the authority of scripture, or tradition.

    Reason. (I include here the way people in general think of justice and fairness.) An example of a principle which can be supported from everyday life is the Principle of Equal Division. This is that if a benefit (eg a cake) is received by a group of people, then, other things being equal, it should be divided evenly between them. I do not see that GPPS is supported in this way. The only example given is that in criminal law, a fine can be paid by anyone, not just the guilty person. However, fines are only given for minor offences, and even for these other penalties, such as community service, cannot not be transferred. It would in fact be hard or impossible to ensure that a fine is paid by the person fined. (As I write this, I wonder what would happen in a law court if, as the judge was about to sentence A to 2 years for burglary, A’s brother B stood up and said ‘A has a young family while I’m single. Send me to prison instead’.)

    Scripture. I have never heard an argument for GPPS, in its general abstract form, from scripture.

    Tradition. Without reason or Scripture, this should not be enough for an evangelical.

    Certainly one can accept penal substitution for the atonement without accepting GPSS. One might say that the atonement is central, and any other instances of penal substitution are images or reflections of that defining event. (Maybe this is what the preachers I heard intended to say.) However, without GPPS it is harder to explain the nature of the transaction, and why justice is satisfied, if the event is unique and has no good analogies in our experience.

    • Thanks. I think you are offering a common-sense objection to penal substitution; the law does not demand that a ‘fine must be paid’ in the abstract, but that the fine must be paid *by the guilty party*.

      Nevertheless, I do think that Scripture repeatedly says that Jesus ‘took our place’ in some sense, so there is substitution. I agree with you (and I say in the article) that Scripture does not offer us a single, precise, explanation of the mechanism by which atonement works.

      • I would love to get my head around all this but as soon as I 5hink I’m there I realise yet another style to climb.
        I do think however that God is where the buck stops. He is the pattern of all things. Therefore, if He accepts the penalty then He accepts The Penalty. He becomes the place where the bottom of the abyss is found. If the earth helped the Woman by swallowing the flood then Jesus is the ultimate Land that swallows the evil tide. He is the Great City broken in three.

    • Hi Martin

      U would not object in principle to someone taking the punishment of another. How often in a novel has the hero died to save others who have done wrong. We admire self-giving for others which is a form of substitution. We have no problem with a debt paid by a party other than than the debtor, There may be good reasons in law to prevent one person taking the punishment of another but these are likely to be for reasons other than the principle of doing so.

      More importantly, as Ian points out, the Bible teaches substitutionary atonement. I would go further and sat it teaches penal substitutionary atonement; death is a penalty for sin. Whose penalty is Jesus bearing in his death?

      The startling revelation of Isaiah 53 is that the substitutionary sacrifice of animals commonplace in the Levitical atonement system becomes true of a human being. And time will show that the sacrifice of this human being will make all the levitical sacrifices redundant for in reality they simply pointed to him.

      That God requires a human sacrifice for sin is itself difficult to swallow. Seeing this as penal makes it more understandable and more palatable.

    • Martin,

      Well, I’m a non-expert and I’m intrigued by all the abbreviations that experts come up with – for example GPPS. To understand GPPS we have to look at 4G and the view we take on it depends on the identity of the BD who could be anybody bar John bar Zeb or James bar Zeb.

      Any other abbreviations which spring to mind?

      But with this whole business of `penal substitution’, there may be something in it, but concentrating on this makes a huge error of overlooking the whole purpose of creation – which is to create a Godly community that we’ll only really see in all its glory in the next life.

      Paul’s `wretched man’ of Romans 7:14-25 gives the description (written in the present tense, first person singular, but it applies to all believers), where those of us who are `in him’ have an `innermost being’ which is there, but suppressed and will be seen in all its glory when the `old man’ or sinful nature is finally put off.

      I liked a description I heard Moltmann giving in the Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh back in 1985 (which he published in the book `God in Creation’) where he poses the question of where a perfect God (and perfection includes omnipresence) would put the creation. The first creative act was, in an act of self humiliation, to create a God – forsaken space, so that creation could be external to Him (this is the difference between `created’ and `begotten’ when describing the second person of the trinity – the second person was within God). Therefore, in this God-forsaken space, there is a radical evil at the heart of creation which has to be dealt with.

      The crucified God, abandoned and crucified (again to borrow a Moltmann phrase from his `The Crucified God’) is central to the faith – Christ assumed sinful flesh (Gregory Nazianzen: that which is not assumed cannot be healed) stepped into the God-forsaken space and in so doing reached into the fundamental ontological depths of our beings (to borrow a phrase from Torrance) and, in conquering sin and death on our behalf, pulled us from the depths of hell up to heaven.

      Yes – I see the wrath of God directed against unrepentant sinners. We all understand the wrath of God; consider our own feelings when Vladimir Putin commits atrocities in the Ukraine. I’m not sure I like the formal `penal substitution’ theory, because it seems somewhat wiggy – it’s as if we have to be put on the naughty seat and Jesus kindly sat on the naughty seat on our behalf.

      • Welcome back Jock.
        I don’t like your God-forsaken space idea. Dunno why. I feel that at first The Father rested in creation. Then the Son was born into creation. This was a deeper dimension. Then the Spirit indwells us, in Christ, in creation. Then finally we are brought within the Godhead until we become a quadrinity. Lion . Ox. Eagle. Man.
        Let’s play ‘what’s my heresy’

        • Thanks Steve!

          Been on holiday – got back today – spent most of today flying – hence feeling slightly done in.

          I think the problem here – as you hint at – as soon as we start asking *why* too seriously, we are in danger of being wise beyond Scripture – especially if you try to mix philosophy in with it (I remember Moltmann, with a strong German accent, posing ze fundamental ontological kvestion in a distinctly German accent, `why is there anything instead of nothing at all?’)

          So based on philosophical (rather than biblical) foundations (for example, God is perfect – this means omnipotent and omnipresent) he is led to something like this.

          I find the idea attractive, taken in the way that Moltmann saw it, as an act of self-humiliation …….

          But – really – all attempts to go too far down this road are in great danger of leading to heresy. I think that `satisfaction’ sounds like a heresy. When it comes to satisfaction, I think that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote a song about it, which might be of interest to `the young people’ (by which I mean ageing rockers who are over 80).

      • Jock,
        My comment of 16 April 8:23 pm contains a link to an essay to contemporary theologian Fred Sanders, who critiques Moltman with his Heglian philosophy influenced lineage, perhaps more specifically setting the crucifixion primarily in the paradigm of the Trinity, where he sees it a place of ” an event of divine rupture”, a primarily place that centres on the definition of God, rather than the cross as the place of God’s work for us, “for our salvation”. Teaching there, the distinction between God and creaturely reality.
        We don’t look there to see what the Trinity is like (as per Moltman), but to see that is the way, how, God atones for human sin. (Sanders)
        Sanders, expands on this abstract from his essay.

        • Geoff – thanks for this. I don’t understand fully what Moltmann is saying, but I did get from it some ideas which ring true and I’d say I probably prefer (my understanding of) Moltmann to Sanders (of course, in my case, Moltmann heavily tweaked around by other things that I have seen).

          What I don’t get is a pre-crucifixion God singing `I can’t get no satisfaction’ and a post-crucifixion God singing `I’m more than satisfied’.

          As I said, my whole understanding is based on Romans 7:14-25; the wretched man, with the `inner being’ that delights in God’s law, but `what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do’ – this is something that I fully understand.

          I see the crucifixion and resurrection as God’s way of liberating the `inner being’ from the clutches of sin and death.

          If you have children of your own, you know that once the child has understood what he is supposed to be doing, wants to do it – and is basically trying to do it, then that is great, all the `bad stuff’ of the past is completely forgotten and one doesn’t (unless one is a narcissistic sadistic maniac) actually keep an account of all the past sins and require a price to be paid for them.

          And, for me, Moltmann’s way of looking at it (at least, what I got from a superficial reading of `The Crucified God’ and hearing the lectures on which `God in Creation’ are based) is more convincing than Sanders – and chimes in better with my understanding of Romans 7:14-25.

          There is atonement, but I don’t see that as the key thing that is going on; the key thing that is going on is that God is creating a community (unless, of course, by `atonement’ you mean the process of eradicating the `sinful nature’ of Romans 7:14-25).

          Of course, the bit about `what is not assumed cannot be healed’ and Christ, having taken on sinful flesh, reaches right into the fundamental ontological depths of our being, was something quite powerful, which I got from Torrance `The Trinitarian Faith’ and his discussion about Gregory Nazianzen.

          • Jock,
            My understanding is that Moltmann was a universalist,”all will be saved in the end” (The Coming of God) so I’m unsure about what he sees salvation as and how it is accomplished.
            It also seems that his approach to dogmatics in his first three major woks was “to look at theology from one particular standpoint”. As such, I find Fred Sanders point compelling. That is, Moltmann expounds the “Doctrine of God from the perspective of the cross,”where he sought to base the doctrine of the Trinity upon the event of the cross upon and Jesus cry of dereliction in particular.”, in The Crucified Christ, rather than from the position of salvation, of what God is accomplishing in Christ as pointed out by Sanders. “stressing God’s immanence… focusing on the role of the Holy Spirit, whom he sees as *indwelling creation*.”

            God in Creation, “sets out an ecological doctrine of creation.”

            Quotations from, A Concise History of Christian Thought by Tony Lane.

          • Geoff – well, you may be right about this, but I didn’t see universalism leaping out of the page when I read his work. You are (of course) correct that there are major points of concern – but I strongly appreciate anyone who puts the crucified Christ right at the centre. When (for example) we see the horrors of the Ukraine situation unfolding, there are ideas in Moltmann’s approach which are, frankly, the only way of making sense of it all. But I agree that much of it really has to be taken with a huge pinch of salt.

  41. Jock

    It’s a big discussion but I see Romans 7 as a kind of Pre-Christian personal or better it is a believer living his life by law and not by the Spirit. Life in the Spirit begins in ch 8. 7:1-6 provides the premise of which the rest is a commentary. Two unions are in view; union with the law and union with Christ (7:1-6). Ch 7 is union with Law. Law has no power. It can neither justify (Ch 1-5) or sanctify (Ch 7). Ch 7 does not describe someone winning some fights and losing others; he loses them all. This is not Christian experience.

    • Yes there seems to be disagreement amongst commentators over who Paul is talking about – a non believer or a believer struggling with sin. Im not sure myself. I wonder what Ian thinks?


    • John – well, I suppose you’re entitled to your opinion about Romans 7, but I thought that in an earlier discussion you indicated that you liked the approach of James Philip. He takes Romans 5,6,7 and 8 as expressing 4 different facets of the same reality, which is life in Him. Romans 5 is freedom from God’s wrath, Romans 6 freedom from sin, Romans 7 freedom from the law and Romans 8 freedom from death.

      I remember that James Philip did deal with the split that you suggest between Romans 7 and Romans 8 – and dismissed it – by pointing to all the groaning that is going on in Romans 8:22-26 and pointing out that this is indeed a mighty groan for someone who is happy all the day (I remember him stating, in this context, dead pan expression `and the hymn that says `now I am happy all the day’ is a load of codswallop’ – and even though I found it highly entertaining at the time, I was careful not to express this until the service was long finished and I was far away from the church.

      In Romans 8:25 we hope for what we do not yet have – and what we do not yet have is expressed in the `wretched man’ of Romans 7:14-25 (which, as I pointed out, is written in the first person present tense – current experience of a mature Christian – unless, of course, you are saying that Paul is not a Christian) points out that even though we are saved, even though the sinful nature is dead, in the sense that the victory is assured, the sinful nature is still very much active – and we don’t see the fulness of our victory `in him’ until the next life.

      I agree 100 percent with James Philips on this – Romans 7:14-25 is written first person, present tense, by a mature Christian describing the experience of a mature Christian. Paul is writing about *his own* *current* experience.

      The whole point here is that someone who isn’t `in Him’ isn’t particularly bothered by sin and the fact that they continue to sin isn’t a problem for them.

  42. John Thomson – these are notes I made on Romans 7:14-25 based on what I heard from James Philip. This isn’t really the topic of Ian Paul’s post, but I put it here in response to what you said about the `wretched man’ passage.

    The last section in the chapter speaks of a profound inner conflict. The theme throughout chapter 7 is freedom from the law. Just as freedom from sin has a paradoxical character in that the believer is both free from sin and yet sinful, living in a mortal body, a sphere where sin still is a power and a force to be reckoned with, so it is here. Freedom from the law is not freedom from the tensions and battles of the life in the Spirit. We are both `in Christ’ and `in the
    flesh’. As believers, we are under grace, it is true, but we live this life of grace in a sphere where law is still a reality. Our soul is the battlefield of these two worlds and the tensions of the conflict are described in these verses.

    The present tense is used in these verses. Paul is writing about his current experience, present tense, as a mature Christian. The statement in 7v22 `I delight in God’s law’ illustrates this.

    These verses come at the end of a chapter addressing the Christian freedom from the law. Freedom from sin has a paradoxical character in that the believer is both free from sin and yet sinful, living in a mortal body, a sphere where sin is still a power to be reckoned with.

    Paul cannot be understood to be describing a believer living a defeated life; rather, he realistically recognises what is really going on in the inner being of a believer, the fact that there is `another self’ within, a shadow personality in conflict with the true.
    To recognise that we are `not ourselves’ in our sinnerhood is a necessary step to `becoming ourselves’ in and through Christ.

    Verse 24, `What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?’ expresses something in his present experience as a believer that is inevitable. It is the tension that exists in the believer as being `in Christ’ and at the same time `in the flesh’; `set free’ and yet subject to the limitations of living in the realm where sin and law are realities.

    Romans 7:15-16 The basic contradiction expressed in Romans 7:14 is further underlined by and explains Romans 7:15. It is this inability to understand his own actions that leads him finally to cry `Wretched man that I am!’

    Romans 7:17-20 The phrase `It is no longer I that do it, but sin living within me’, which is repeated, is striking and significant. It is clear that Paul is not making excuses for his sin; rather, he recognises the nature of the conflict that is taking place in his inner being. `Our old self’ of Romans 6v6 was the basic self joined to `Adam’, which is no longer the real `I’.

    The statement `no longer I, but sin’ contrasts with another Pauline statement, `No longer I, but Christ’, in Galatians 2:20.

    Both these statements are true of the believer at the same time. They describe the same paradox from two different standpoints. From the perspective `no longer I, but sin’, the believer is a `wretched man’. From the standpoint `no longer I, but Christ’, believers are `more than conquerors’ (Romans 8:37).

    Romans 7:21-23 Paul sums up the argument in the previous verses. `This law’ refers to the Mosaic law; it also refers to a dark counterfeit of the Mosaic law standing side by side with it. Throughout Romans 6, sin was considered to be a dark power. This view is continued; it is a
    dark force within him, compelling him to act against his better self.

    Romans 7:24This is an expression of the inevitable tension that arises for the believer through the ambivalence of his position `in Christ’ and `in the flesh’.

    This is the only possible way of understanding this short passage. Freedom from sin cannot be equated with actual sinlessness, which is an impossibility in this life. In Paul’s thought, to be set free from sin means to be no longer under the dominion of sin. But the existence
    of sin is still a reality. The remaining sin in one who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit will surely create tension within the person. Despite the `much more’ of grace (Romans 5:15,17,20) which means real liberation, we are not able in this life not to be sinners; Romans 7:24 remains true for the believer to the end. Full deliverance is not yet, for we are saved in hope (Romans 8:24) and `groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for the adoption as sons, the redemption of our
    bodies.’ (Romans 8:23)

    As Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians and in his
    letter to the Galatians:

    \paragraph{2 Corinthians 5v2}{\em Meanwhile, we groan, longing to be
    clothed with our heavenly dwelling}

    \paragraph{Galatians 5v17}{\em For the sinful nature desires what is
    contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful
    nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not
    to do whatever you want.}

    \paragraph{Romans 7v25}{\em Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ
    our Lord!

    So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the
    sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.} \vspace{5mm}

    \noindent The thanksgiving here confirms that the tension is answered
    in Christ and prepares for the major statement of the next chapter. In
    7v25(b), the apostle sums up the entire discussion in chapters 5,6 and

    The conflict described by Paul is an inevitable part of true
    Christian experience. As chapter 5v12-21 makes clear, the tension
    between flesh and spirit is not an equal tension. The new life
    imparted to us in Christ is immeasurably greater and stronger than the
    old. The words `much more’ are repeated and emphasised. As believers,
    even within the limitations of the flesh, we have the first fruits of
    the Spirit and this more than offsets the sinful nature. The `reign of
    life’ in 5v21 indicates that victory is already present amid the
    `groaning’; the sin that used to cripple and paralyse life will
    certainly yield to the power of God’s grace. Even so, it still remains
    true that we are not able not to be sinners and therefore we are still
    in the position of Paul when he cries `O wretched man that I am, who
    shall deliver me from this body of death?’ But sin does not have the
    final word and, as Paul puts it elsewhere;

    \paragraph{2 Corinthians 4v17}{\em For our light and momentary
    troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them

    • John – apologies – I pressed the `post comment’ button before I had completed the formatting – but I think the meaning is clear.

      • Ian – could you remove my comment where I duffed on the formatting? I’ve put it in more clearly below. The duplication doesn’t add anything.

        Apologies for this cut-and-paste – it was specifically in response to John Thomson, who seemed to express agreement with the line that James Philip took on a previous thread, but now he seems to be taking a completely different line and stating that this line is untenable.

  43. Romans 7:14-25

    Was Paul the Unbeliever or the Believer?
    Paul expresses his struggles with sin. Is this as an unbeliever or as a believer?
    Keller sets out a case that Paul is talking of his own present experience – his Christian life.
    He lists textual evidence in support:
    1 “There is a change in verb tenses. Romans 7: 7-13 are in the past tense, but from verse 14 all the tenses are present. A natural reading would tell us that Paul is speaking of his own “now.”

    2 “There is a change in situation. Verses 7-13 talk about sin “killing” him. He’s dead. But from verse 14 on Paul describes an ongoing struggle with sin, but he refuses to surrender’

    3 “Paul delights in God’s law: “In my inner being I delight in God’s law (v 22) even though sin is at work in him.
    “Unbelievers can not delight in God’s law in their heart of heart: “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. ” (8:7) This categorically denies that any unbeliever can delight in God’s law, so is a strong argument the Romans 7:22 can’t be the words of an unbeliever.

    4 “Paul admits that he is a lost sinner: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (v 18). Unbelievers are unaware of being lost and so sinful that they can’t save themselves, In fact, even immature believers tend to be overconfident, unaware of the depths of the depravity of their own hearts.

    “So the evidence in the text points to the speaker being the “present Paul” – a mature believer – though this is an issue on which wise, godly people have respectfully disagreed.

    “Paul lays out his inner struggle -experienced by every converted person in verses 14-17 and recapitulates it in verses 18-20, before summarizing it in verses 22-23.

    ”The holier we are, the more we cry about our unholiness…

    “Paul is emphasizing that in yourself, even as a Christian, you are incapable of keeping the law. Notice that he uses the word “I” numerous times.
    “Thus he is saying: in myself, I am still unable to live as I should. Even though there is a new identification in Christ, love and delight in the law of God, Christian is still completely unable of keeping the law…

    “This means the Christian cries two thing at once, as Paul does: the cries of the heart
    1 A desperate cry of discouragement as we look at our own efforts and failings. ” What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death?” (v 24)”’

    “Without accepting this we will never grasp the glory of the gospel We will never truly appreciate the gospel of received righteousness…. to then know the hope and liberation of looking away from ourselves to what God has done

    2 “Who will rescue Paul and us? “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v25)


    “In a sense, verses 24-25 look back on all that has gone before in Paul’s letter and beyond to what will come.
    “There is no hope in ourselves for our salvation, nor our obedience.

    “All we are and have done merits only judgment.

    “For our salvation we can only look to God’s Son dying on the cross for us as Paul showed in chapters 1-4.
    “For our hope we can only ever rest in his righteousness as seen in chapters 5 and 6…
    “And for our ongoing obedience, for any real change, we will need to rely not on our own efforts, as chapter 7 has established, but on the work of God’s Spirit, which will transform our lives and relationships as the rest of Romans will show.
    “We are “wretched”. God is not. Through his Son he has rescued us and through his Spirit he is changing us, so that we can enjoy him forever. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ, our Lord'”

    From, Romans 1-7 For You, Edited from the Study by Timothy Keller; thegoodbookcompany

    • Geoff – thanks for this – it makes the point more clearly and succinctly than my own notes (based on James Philip).

      It may seem tangential to the thread, but I do think there is a deep connection between how we view the `wretched man’ of Romans 7 and what we think of the `satisfaction’ business that the thread is supposed to be about.

  44. John Thomson – apologies for messing up on the formatting – this one is properly formatted (I hope).

    These are notes I made on Romans 7:14-25 based on what I heard from James Philip. This isn’t really the topic of Ian Paul’s post, but I put it here in response to what you said about the `wretched man’ passage. I think it is interesting – and it is also crucial.

    The last section of Romans 7 speaks of a profound inner conflict. The theme throughout chapter 7 is freedom from the law. Just as freedom from sin has a paradoxical character in that the believer is both free from sin and yet sinful, living in a mortal body, a sphere where sin still is a power and a force to be reckoned with, so it is here. Freedom from the law is not freedom from the tensions and battles of the life in the Spirit. We are both `in Christ’ and `in the flesh’. As believers, we are under grace, it is true, but we live this life of grace in a sphere where law is still a reality. Our soul is the battlefield of these two worlds and the tensions of the conflict are described in these verses.

    The present tense is used in these verses. Paul is writing about his current experience, present tense, as a mature Christian. The statement in 7v22 `I delight in God’s law’ illustrates this.

    These verses come at the end of a chapter addressing the Christian freedom from the law. Freedom from sin has a paradoxical character in that the believer is both free from sin and yet sinful, living in a mortal body, a sphere where sin is still a power to be reckoned with.

    Paul cannot be understood to be describing a believer living a defeated life; rather, he realistically recognises what is really going on in the inner being of a believer, the fact that there is `another self’ within, a shadow personality in conflict with the true.
    To recognise that we are `not ourselves’ in our sinnerhood is a necessary step to `becoming ourselves’ in and through Christ.

    Verse 24, `What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?’ expresses something in his present experience as a believer that is inevitable. It is the tension that exists in the believer as being `in Christ’ and at the same time `in the flesh’; `set free’ and yet subject to the limitations of living in the realm where sin and law are realities.

    Romans 7:15-16 The basic contradiction expressed in Romans 7:14 is further underlined by and explains Romans 7:15. It is this inability to understand his own actions that leads him finally to cry `Wretched man that I am!’

    Romans 7:17-20 The phrase `It is no longer I that do it, but sin living within me’, which is repeated, is striking and significant. It is clear that Paul is not making excuses for his sin; rather, he recognises the nature of the conflict that is taking place in his inner being. `Our old self’ of Romans 6v6 was the basic self joined to `Adam’, which is no longer the real `I’.

    The statement `no longer I, but sin’ contrasts with another Pauline statement, `No longer I, but Christ’, in Galatians 2:20.

    Both these statements are true of the believer at the same time. They describe the same paradox from two different standpoints. From the perspective `no longer I, but sin’, the believer is a `wretched man’. From the standpoint `no longer I, but Christ’, believers are `more than conquerors’ (Romans 8:37).

    Romans 7:21-23 Paul sums up the argument in the previous verses. `This law’ refers to the Mosaic law; it also refers to a dark counterfeit of the Mosaic law standing side by side with it. Throughout Romans 6, sin was considered to be a dark power. This view is continued; it is a
    dark force within him, compelling him to act against his better self.

    Romans 7:24 This is an expression of the inevitable tension that arises for the believer through the ambivalence of his position `in Christ’ and `in the flesh’.

    This is the only possible way of understanding this short passage. Freedom from sin cannot be equated with actual sinlessness, which is an impossibility in this life. In Paul’s thought, to be set free from sin means to be no longer under the dominion of sin. But the existence of sin is still a reality. The remaining sin in one who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit will surely create tension within the person. Despite the `much more’ of grace (Romans 5:15,17,20) which means real liberation, we are not able in this life not to be sinners; Romans 7:24 remains true for the believer to the end. Full deliverance is not yet, for we are saved in hope (Romans 8:24) and `groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for the adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.’ (Romans 8:23)

    Paul amplifies on our groaning in 2 Corinthians 5:2 and the conflict between the sinful nature and the Spirit in Galatians 5:17.

    Romans 5:25 The thanksgiving here confirms that the tension is answered in Christ and prepares for the major statement of the next chapter. In Romans 7:25(b), the apostle sums up the entire discussion in chapters 5,6 and 7.

    The conflict described by Paul is an inevitable part of true Christian experience. As chapter 5:12-21 makes clear, the tension between flesh and spirit is not an equal tension. The new life imparted to us in Christ is immeasurably greater and stronger than the old. The words `much more’ are repeated and emphasised. As believers, even within the limitations of the flesh, we have the first fruits of the Spirit and this more than offsets the sinful nature. The `reign of life’ in Romans 5:21 indicates that victory is already present amid the `groaning’; the sin that used to cripple and paralyse life will certainly yield to the power of God’s grace. Even so, it still remains true that we are not able not to be sinners and therefore we are still in the position of Paul when he cries `O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death?’ But sin does not have the final word and, as Paul puts it elsewhere (2 Corinthians 4:17) `For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

  45. Hi Jock and Geoff

    You both express what is probably the most common Reformed view on Romans 7. James Philip represents this view. Jock, although I like James Philip’s book (an echo of Nygren’s Lutheran commentary), I do not agree with him on Chapter 7. My own view is much more similar to M. Loyd-Jones. I don’t think I have really anything to add to my previous comment.

    1. 7:1-6 is Paul’s basic contention. We are in union with Christ not with the law. This is illustrated by the union of marriage. More broadly, Paul ha ben revealing since Ch 5 how the gospel frees us from powers that enslave and how we now ‘reign in life’. In Ch 6 we are freed from the power of sin. In Ch 7 we are freed from the power of law. In Ch 8 we are freed from death (James Philip’s and Nygren’s outline). Ch 7 is a commentary on the need to be free from the law to please God..

    ‘Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.’

    Note Paul’s point; we have died to the law (it is no longer an authority in the believer’s life) which could never bear fruit for God. Only in union with Christ, serving by the Spirit and not the law, can we bear fruit for God.

    2. Vv7-25 are simply an exposition of the basic contention in vv1-6. In particular, it is describing what union with the law looks like. It produces death (v 5, 7-12) arouses sin (v5, 13-18) and produces fruit to death (5, 18-24).

    3. The persona Paul adopts seems to be regenerate; he wants to obey the law and delights in it in his inner being (v22). Yet Paul also describes him in a way that does not seem fitting for a Christian; he is sold under sin (v14) and captive to the law of sin working in his members (v23). In Ch 6 he has emphatically said that the believer is free from sin (6:6,14,17) yet here in Ch 7 he describes himself as ‘sold under sin’ (7:14). It is a contradiction unless Paul is describing a sub-Christian experience; a life of pleasing God by depending on the law.

    4. It’s important to note Ch 7 is not a conflict where Paul envisages even occasional victory. He stresses his experience of life under law is only continual defeat; the evil he would not do he does and the good he would do he doesn’t. He has. The desire to do good but not the power. He can only produce fruit for death (5, 13).

    This is therefore not the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit in Gals 5. In Gals 5, Paul envisages the Spirt leading the believers to victory over the flesh. In Romans 7, there is no victory over the flesh (v25). Paul wants to do good (he is regenerate) but cannot; he is captive to the law of sin. The reason is clear, in Romans 7 Paul is taking the role of a regenerate person seeking to live by the law which worked on the principle of self-help (this do and you will live). There is no mention of the enabling power of the Spirit in 7: 7-25. The man in these verses is serving in the old way of the written code and not the new way of the Spirit (v6). Paul’s conclusion is reached in Ch 8

    ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.’

    God in Christ condemned sin in the flesh of Jesus that we through union with him may live righteously though walking by the Spirit. It is that inner dependence on the Spirit to produce godly character and Christlikeness.


    Ch 7 describes how the covenant of law, even for the believer, is a ministration of death. If we simply give ourselves to law-keeping we will know only death. If we keep measuring and motivating ourselves by law we will stand condemned. Law exposes, exaggerates and excites sin but it cannot produce righteousness. The righteous requirement of the law is produces in those who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

    This is how I understand the flow of argument from ch 7,8.

    • John – well, fair dos. When I first heard James Philip talking about Romans 7, it was a real revelation. I was a Christian before, but this shone a real light into the darkness. If you didn’t have the same experience, then I can’t argue with that.

      All I’d say, though, is that James Philip basically defined his ministry on this point, so that if you say on the one hand that you appreciate his output but you don’t like this bit, then it’s like saying `yes – I’d love a steak pie and chips with baked beans on the side’, but then adding, `but I’d like you to replace the chips with couscous, the steak with some veggie option, the beans with a nice green salad and the pastry with a gluten free alternative.’

      This was in some sense defining.

  46. PS. One point I should perhaps add. From Ch 5-8 Paul is looking at redemptive-historical categories. It is life in the new age of the reigning Messiah and the Spirit that he is describing; sin, law and death belong to the old age. Their power in the life of te believer has even defeated at the cross.

  47. Hello John,
    Keller spends some time looking at what is meant by the law – I don’t have any books to hand.
    The law continues, unless Jesus conflation of the law is also excluded and the new covenant of law being written on hearts.
    No salvation no sanctification can be achieved by self effort, which comes to a crescendo in Romans 7 :24-25 as a desperate realisation and a reminder that we can’t do it- a reminder that follows with the Himalayan Heights of Chapter 8 indicatives, reality.
    We live as Christians in the now but not yet period. Am I in union with Christ? Yes. Do I always remember? No. Do I always look away from self and to Christ? No. Do I have the Spirit of God who raised Christ from the dead, dwelling within me? Yes. Do I live in the full flowering resurrection power of the Spirit? No. I look to myself, far, far too frequently. Surely Christian life isn’t a straight line upward trajectory.
    (Salvation, sanctification is both now and not yet.
    Do we enjoy God, Father, Son, Spirit? )
    It seems, from all of scripture, that even to Paul that was a reality in his post conversion life, lived not merely in contemplation if the supreme reality of life in Christ.
    It reminds me of a Van Morrison song- “When will I ever learn to live in God- When will I ever learn?”

  48. Douglas Moo whose view on Romans 7 I found helpful but nevertheless do not fully agree with (he views Romans 7 as an unregenerate person) has an excellent article on law that was part of a counterpoint series. This is well worth reading.


    Jock, it’s some time since I looked at Philip’s book but I don’t recall it putting such an emphasis on Roman’s 7.

    Geoff, to the extent we live in Romans 7, I don’t think we should consider it normal or desirable Christian experience. I’m not sure that as I read Paul’s other letters I have a sense that his was a life lived struggling greatly to subdue a ‘law-mentality’ in his life though I can see it in my own life.

    Origen, Michael Bird, Douglas Moo and Beale take the ‘wretched man’ (frustrated rather than guilty man) of Romans 7 as unregenerate. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Charles Hodge, John Murray, Anders Nygren, C E Canfield, J I Packer, and John Piper take him as the regenerate man in healthy spiritual experience. Some who view the ‘wretched man’ as regenerate including John Stott, J G Dunn, Thomas Schreiner, N T Wright, Douglas Milne, and Leslie Milton see Paul as representing the tension of living between the ‘already and not yet’. I think my position is much nearer these latter commentators who all have slightly different shades. Lloyd-Jones sees the man as neither regenerate nor unregenerate but a man awakened and convicted of sin. I personally see the ‘wretched man’ as part of an argument. The new eschaton or age has brought the believer through death into an age where neither sin (Ch 6) or law (Ch 7) or death (Ch 8) should be regarded as having power over him. These all belong to the old age. Of course Christians sin and often live in fear of death and frequently live as if by their own abilities to please God and achieve holiness but this is not as it should be. This is failure and reveals the powers of the old age getting a grip on our lives which is, I believe, what Geoff is saying.

    I don’t believe that ‘o wretched man that I am’ should be normal Christian experience though all too often it is.

  49. John,
    To be clear, I see it as a reminder to stop looking at self, but to look to Christ. It is a reminder, if I can put it in those terms, to look to the reality that is set out chapter 8.
    Without that there is indeed a lapse into wretched striving of self centred, self works- obedience – self -righteousness for salvation, sanctification and glorification. And that is not the Gospel of Jesus, the Christ.
    As for Paul, was he ever, desperate, at the end of his tether, of sufficient magnitude, to be pulled back, needing to be reminded of the grace of God.

    • John,
      I recall attending a talk by Philip Hacking, Anglican minister, not long after becoming a Christian. He’d been asked to speak on Romans 7.
      He opened with something to the effect that he couldn’t properly talk on chapter 7 without also joining Romans 8 – they were in effect inseparableable.


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