What atoned for sin? (2)
The penal substitution theory of atonement is relatively simple. Penal means related to suffering and "substitution" (in this case) means someone suffers punishment in the place of the guilty who are due the punishment. X is guilty and deserves punishment but Y offers to bear his punishment for him, is punished with the required amount of punishment and X is acquitted and goes unpunished.
Here's how it works: humans sin, breaking God's holy law and they must be punished to the fullest extent of the law or the law is despised. God can't allow that. But if they were punished to the fullest extent of the holy law they would all perish eternally and God doesn't want them all to perish eternally. So he transfers human sin on to Jesus and punishes him with the punishment that was due the sinners and since the demand of the holy law that punishment take place is satisfied, the sinners are pronounced acquitted and can't be punished.
If God decided to punish sinners for their sin after Jesus bore the required punishment it would be an insult to Jesus and his cross experience and it would be something like "double jeopardy"; and heaven forbid, we can't have that. It follows, then, that all those for whom Jesus was the punished substitute can never be punished for their sins.
There are too many difficulties involved in the theory and we can see this by James Packer's vague definition of it; so vague and general is his definition that I could agree with it and I don't even believe the penal substitution theory. Oh well.
In any case, if all the sin and sins of sinners were transferred off them on to Jesus and he was punished to the full extent of the law (though he didn't perish eternally!) we have to conclude that universalism or limited atonement is true.
If he was punished for every human without exception then no human can be lost—universalism. The only other viable option is that he was punished for some sinners—limited atonement. (We're back again at the worst face of Reformed doctrine.)
The theory misses the point anyway—punishment doesn't result in "forgiveness". To punish a criminal with the full demand of the law for his crime means we've exhausted the demand of the law; it has nothing more against him. Imagine after his serving twenty years for robbery with violence—the full demand of the law—we tell him, "You're now forgiven!" Punishment doesn't atone for sin! It's precisely because the crime isn't atoned for, it's precisely because he wasn't forgiven that the criminal did twenty years in prison. Some will suffer eternal punishment precisely because their sin wasn't atoned and because they weren't forgiven.
Punishment under the right circumstances will satisfy the demands of the law but it doesn't bring reconciliation or forgiveness. It might aim for reconciliation and forgiveness but punishment does not reconcile and since God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ's suffering you can be sure he wasn't punishing him.
In any case, punishment of the known innocent is immoral! God wouldn't dream of "punishing" anyone he knows to be innocent and how much less do you think he would punish Jesus?
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.