Luther, Calvin, Arminius and I: Universality and Particularity of Atonement

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo Mini

The shed blood of Christ Jesus “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” wrote the author the first epistle of John (1 John 2:2 NIV). This article presents a universality and particularity of atonement and showed that Martin Luther, John Calvin and Jacob Arminius held a similar understanding of the nature and extent of atonement.

I have studied and reflected 1 John 2:2 for the last 5 months. I have come to a conclusion that Christ shed his blood for all, post-Christ’s death and resurrection, without exception. This is the universality of the atoning work of Christ Jesus. The story, nonetheless, does not end here. The shed blood of Christ is, however, not extended to all without exception but to all without distinction. This is the particularity of the atoning work of Christ Jesus.

The shed blood of Christ extends or is applied particularly to believers, the elected or the called, whom in God’s proper time are also given the gift of regeneration that spring forth faith to receive it (Acts 13:48). Through the shedding of His blood, Christ’s righteousness is thus given to all without distinction.  Christ’s righteousness is given to whomever believe (Rom. 3:22) in the person and work of Christ Jesus. Continue reading

Clement of Rome: Penal Substitution Atonement


The atoning work of Christ Jesus is immeasurably deep in value. All orthodox theories of atonement, in diverse viewpoints yet a unified picture, disclose  certain truths about what happened when Christ died on the cross. Penal substitution is one of the theory that fathoms Christ Jesus as vicariously suffering the judicial penalty, viz., the holy and righteous wrath of God, in the place of those He substituted at Golgotha.

This view, according to Paul S. Fiddes, was an outcome of John Calvin reworking of the atoning work on Christ Jesus through the lens of Anselm’s satisfaction theory (Fiddes 1989:98). Granting that the church fathers clearly taught substitutionary atonement, Derek Flood contended that they did not teach penal substitution”(Flood 2010: 142) Is it true that penal substitution was not taught by the church fathers? Is it true that they did not teach that the penalty of sin that we justly deserve from God has being borne  by Christ Jesus in our place?

This series of articles answered both questions with a negative. Exploring some passages from ante-Nicene and post-Nicene church fathers’ writings, it is clear that they taught penal substitution atonement.

Clement of Rome and Penal Substitution

Commending the Corinthians to exemplify Christ mildness Clement of Rome, in circa 96 A.D., cited Isaiah 53’s prophecy and applied it to Christ Jesus. The servant of God was prophesied to bear our iniquities. “He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities.” And that it was God who “delivered Him up for our sins” and was “pleased to purify Him by stripes”. Clement understood Christ Jesus as making an offering for our sin. At Golgotha Christ Jesus carried our sins. Christ Jesus “bare the sins of many, and for their sins was He delivered.”(Cle 1 Cor. 16)

Using the salvation of Rehab the harlot when Joshua took over Jericho as an example to teach Corinthians the rewards of faith and hospitality Clement understood the sign, which Rehab was given to hang forth from her house as “manifest that redemption should flow through the blood of the Lord to all them that believe and hope in God.”(1 Cor. 12)

Expounding the nature of love, Clement wrote,

By love have all the elect of God been made perfect; without love nothing is well-pleasing to God. In love has the Lord taken us to Himself. On account of the Love he bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls.(1 Cor. 49)

As Ninevites, in time of Jonah, repented “of their sin, propitiated God by prayer, and obtained salvation” Christians, commended Clement, are to “look stedfastly to the blood of Christ, and see how precious that blood is to God, which having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world.”(1 Cor. 7)

Polycarp in The Epistle to the Philippians underlined that Christ Jesus is He “who for our sins suffered even unto death”(Poly Phil 1). Ignatius echoed Polycarp in The Epistle to the Smyrnæans when he argued that the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ “suffered for our sins”(Ign 1 Smyr 7)

From these passages I concluded that Clement viewed Christ Jesus’ atoning work as bearing death, our  justly deserved penalty of sin from God, in our place. In his works we can deduce that Christus Victor was the goal of atoning work of Christ Jesus, which brought us victorious over sin, death, Satan. This victory was archived through the means of penal substation atonement. Going beyond the goal and means of atonement out-flowing outcome, Christ’s humbleness to the point of death, according to Clement, is also a moral exemplary attitude for Christians to mimic.


Clement, First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, vol.1 (1885) Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

Fiddes, Paul S. (1989) Past Event and Present Salvation: The Christan Idea of Atonement. Westminster/John Knox Press Lousiville, Kentucky.

Flood, Derek (2010) “Substitutionary atonement and the Chruch Fathers: A reply to the authors of Pierced for Our Transgressions,” in Evangelical Quarterly, 82/2:142-159

Satanus Victor: Atonement As Ransom to Satan

Atonement Nails

Ransom to Satan theory views Christ’s atoning work as a payment to Satan to ransom those whom God the Father gave Christ. Wayne Grudem clarified this view as “the ransom Christ paid to redeem us was paid to Satan, in whose kingdom all people were by virtue of sin.”(Grudem 1994: 581)

Supplementing Grudem, R. C. Sproul expounded that “Satan was the kidnapper who had snatched us away from our Father’s house, and Christ came and paid a ransom to the Devil to set us free.”(Sproul 2007: 54)

A brilliant Christian theologian Origen of Alexandria (185-254 A.D.) was the main champion of the ransom to Satan theory. He contended that, “it was the devil who held us, to whom we had been sold by our sins. He demanded therefore as our price, the blood of Jesus.” (Origen 1985: 142) He articulated,

“To whom did he [Christ Jesus] give his life a ransom for many? Assuredly not to God; could it then be to the evil one? For he was holding us fast until the ransom should be given him, even the life of Jesus; being deceived with the idea that he could have dominion over it, and not seeing that he could not bear the torture in retaining it.”(ibid)

Gregory of Nyssa (ca. 335- ca. 395) added his own twist, as he viewed God deceiving Satan when Christ’s deity hide under Christ’s flesh and offered himself as a ransom and as a result, Satan lost both his victims and Christ. He argued,

“in order to secure that the ransom in our behalf might be easily accepted by him[Satan] who required it, the Deity[of Christ] was hidden under the veil of our nature, that so, as with ravenous fish, the hook of the Deity might be gulped down along with the bait of flesh, and thus, life being introduced into the house of death, and light shining in darkness, that which is diametrically opposed to light and life might vanish; for it is not in the nature of darkness to remain when light is present, or of death to exist when life is active.(Gregory 1893: 494)

Why did many early Church fathers fell for this theory, which gives the Satan much more power than he actually have? How could they accept a view that finds no support in the Scripture, even though the New Testament does indeed speaks of man fallen into the bondage of sin?  It could be “because Satan is the enemy of God and the tempter, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that Satan held us in bondage and demanded a ransom from God.”(Sproul 2007: 55) but we cannot know for sure why.

 “If Christ paid a ransom to Satan to deliver us from Satan’s clutches, who is the victor?”(ibid 57) asked Sproul, as he questioned the validity of this view. If random was paid to the Satan, then Jesus is not Christus Victor, but Satan, hence Satanus Victor.

Grudem contended that those who held ransom to Satan theory “falsely thinks of Satan rather than God as the one who required that a payment be made for sin and thus completely neglects the demands of God’s justice with respect to sin.”(Grudem 1994: 581) He point out that the idea of sinners owing anything to Satan is nowhere to be found in the Old or New Testament. It is God, not Satan, who requires of us a payment for our sins.

Question: Are there modern theologians supporting ransom to Satan theory today?


Gregory of Nyssa. (1893). The Great Catechism W. Moore, Trans.). In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume V: Gregory of Nyssa: Dogmatic Treatises, etc. (P. Schaff & H. Wace, Ed.) New York: Christian Literature Company.

Grudem, W. A. (1994). Systematic theology : An introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

Sproul, R. C. (2007). The Truth of the Cross (53). Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

Origen (1985), Commentary on Matthew 16:8, cited in H. D. McDonald, The Atonement of the Death of Christ in Faith, Revelation, and History. Grand Rapids: Baker.

Particular Atonement: Strengths And Weaknesses


Classical Reformed theologians hold that:

“[I]t was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith, which, together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them, free from every spot and blemish, to the enjoyment of glory in His own presence forever.”( Second Head Of Doctrine, Article 9) [1]

This Reformed view of the extent of the atoning work of Christ Jesus reverberates with Christ Jesus’ proclamation that “[a]ll that the Father gives [him] will come to [him], and whoever comes to [him He] will never cast out”(John 6:37) and that He will “lose nothing of all that [the Father] has given Him, but raise it up on the last day.” (John 6:39-40)

Holding a Reformed position, J. I. Packer correctly summarized Reformed doctrine of particular atonement, when he defined definite redemption as the finished work of Christ that “ actually put away the sins of all God’s elect and ensured that they would be brought to faith through regeneration and kept in faith for glory, and that this is what it was intended to achieve.”(Packer 1995: n.p)

Strengths of Particular Atonement

Particular atonement makes sense of Christ Jesus’ exclusively John 17’s prayer, namely He prayed not for the world, but for those whom God the Father gave Him, for they belong to the Father.

Charles Hodge noted that “[t]he high-priest interceded for all those for whom he offered sacrifice. The one service did not extend beyond the other.”(Hodge 1997: 553). He argued as high-priest bore the names of the twelve tribes upon his breast when representing them as he offered sacrifices for their sins on the day of atonement, Christ Jesus bore the names of those whom God the Father gave Him.

Moreover, particular atonement is the only view that would lead, I believe, to Romans 9:14 reaction, namely “Is there injustice on God’s part?” and that of Romans 9:16b: “Why does he[God] still find fault? For who can resist his will?” position. God showing mercy on whom He shows mercy and our inability to come to Christ Jesus unless the Father particularly show us mercy by drawing us to his Son and the Son will raise all whom the Father gave up on the last day (John 6:44 cf Roman 9:16) does prima facie sound injustice on God’s part.

Particular atonement explains why the cross of Christ is still a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, as Paul explained to the Corinthians, but to those whom the Father particularly called and draw to His Son, “both Jews and Greeks, Christ [crucified is] the power of God and the wisdom of God”(1 Cor. 1:24) On the Soul, 1, Tertullian awesomely observed: “For, who can know truth without the help of God? Who can know God without Christ? Who has ever discovered Christ without the Holy Spirit? And who has ever received the Holy Spirit without the gift of faith?” It is those whom faith is given as a gift who see the power of God and the wisdom of God displayed at the Cross.

Reflecting on this view, William G. T. Shedd brilliantly resolve that “[t]he tenet of limited redemption rests upon the tenet of election, and the tenet of election rests upon the tenet of the sinner’s bondage and inability.”(Shedd 2003: 744)

Concurring with Shedd, Wayne Grudem concluded that all whom the Father had, according to the purpose of his will and praise of his glorious grace, already destined before the creation of the world, to become the children of God “are the same people for whom Christ also came to die, and to those same people the Holy Spirit will certainly apply the benefits of Christ’s redemptive work, even awakening their faith (John 1:12; Phil. 1:29; cf. Eph. 2:2) and calling them to trust in him.”(Grudem 1994: 595)

Weakness of Particular atonement

One of the weaknesses of the doctrine of Particular atonement is that it stands or fall by the truthfulness of the doctrine of Radical depravity viz., fallen creatures are spiritually dead, hostile to God and have no ability to come to Christ Jesus because the things of Spirit are foolish to them, the doctrine Unconditional election viz., those whom the Father gave to His Son, Effectual grace viz., the awaking of a spiritual dead person by the saving work of the Holy Spirit to see the power and beauty of cross, and Eternal assurance viz., those whom the Father gave to His Son are “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of [their] inheritance until [they] acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”(Eph. 1:13-14)

Particular atonement necessarily requires a particular assembly of people from all nations, all tribes, all tongues, who were hostile to God, drawn by the Father to His Son with a power that awakes unquenchable delight and joy to the things of Spirit and are forever kept, never to perish because “no one can snatch them out of [Christ Jesus] hand”(John 10:28).

Question To Reformed Theologians: Am I correct in viewing particular atonement as solely dependent on the truthfulness of radical depravity, effectual call, unconditional election and assurance of salvation to the elect?

[1] Historic Creeds and Confessions. 1997 (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Grudem, W. A. (1994). Systematic theology : An introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House

Packer, J. I. (1995). Concise theology : A guide to historic Christian beliefs. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House.

Shedd, W. G. T., & Gomes, A. W. (2003). Dogmatic theology (3rd ed.). Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub.

Universal Atonement: Strengths And Weaknesses


Classical Dutch Arminians understand the work of Christ Jesus as a penalty for the sin of every mankind. God’s love and desire to save everyone made salvation possible to any one who will call upon and believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savor.

James Arminius1 (1560–1609) accepted that humans are born dead in sins but God in his fairness and justice has restored to every mankind “without any difference of the elect and the reprobate2(Arminius 1853: 497) the power to believe in Christ Jesus.

Following Arminian position, Donald G. Bloesch argued, “Christ has reconciled and justified the whole human race but in principle (de jure), not in fact (de facto) except for those who believe.”(Bloesch 1997: 169)  He pointed that every single person is an heir to the kingdom of God but only those who accept Christ Jesus becomes the members of the church.

Bloesch3 concluded that”[t]he atonement of Christ is universal in its intention and outreach but conditional in the way its efficacy is realized in the lives of God’s people. (ibid 169). Bloesch as all orthodox Christians hold to some form of limited atonement. The dispute is over whether it’s God or human that limits it. Reformed argued that atonement is limited in intention namely God limits it to his chosen, while Arminian, as Bloesch, limits atonement in its efficacy namely Christ’s atoning work is a potential atonement that man has to actualize.

Strengths of Universal Atonement

The strongest verses, I believe, that support universal atonement could be established along Paul’s reasoning that God is the Savior of all men, especially of believers (1 Tim. 4:10) and John’s maintaining that Christ Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2) 4

Paul’s reasoning entails that God is the Savior of both nonbelievers and believers but specifically believers, while John’s leads to Christ’ universal atoning work.

Passages that stressed that Christ died for his sheep, viz., his bride, the Church (e.g. John 10:11-18) does not necessary negate 1 Timothy 4:10 and 1 John 2:2 because they do not assert that He died only for his sheep.

Weakness of Universal Atonement

Universal atonement necessarily leads to universal salvation, namely universalism5. If we consider that Christ’s atoning work propitiated the wrath of God for the sins of every single person, then it follows logically that every single person is saved from the coming wrath of God (Col. 3:6) .

John Owen correctly argued:

If […] we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world… then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? Yon will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.” But this unbelief, is it a sin, or not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not. If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins.(Owen 1862: 173-4)

Using Bloesch’s claim, viz., “[t]he gates of the prison in which we find ourselves are now open, but only those who rise up and walk through these gates to freedom are truly free.” (Bloesch 1997, 169), Owen’s reasoning would lead us to a position that if a prisoner is free, she is free indeed even though she chooses to remain in her prison’s cell. The warden cannot limit her freedom of staying or leaving.  She is not either falsely free or truly free but free or not free.

Wayne Grudem properly pointed out that if “Christ’s death actually paid for the sins of every person who ever lived, then there is no penalty left for anyone to pay, and it necessarily follows that all people will be saved, without exception.”(Grudem 1994: 594) It would be unjust and unloving for God to demand payment for a debt that was already paid by the work of Christ Jesus, regardless of the debtor knowledge that her debt is paid or accepts that her debt is paid.

Bloesch does not explain how “[u]niversal atonement does not necessarily mean universal salvation, but it does imply that all people are the beneficiaries of God’s grace in some way or to some degree”(ibid 168) because, as Robert L. Reymond explained, that Bloesch’s position “requires that we conclude that Christ did not savingly die for everyone—since neither Scripture, history, nor Christian experience will tolerate the conclusion that everyone has been, is being, or shall be saved—but for some people only, even those whom the Father had given to him.”(Reymond 1998: 681)

How universal atonement does not lead to universal salvation, I believe, is a fatal problem in this understanding of atoning work of Christ Jesus.

Question To Arminian Theologians: How do you answer John Owen logical case against universal atonement?

[1] Arminius, the father of Arminianism, reacted to Calvin’s successor Theodore Beza, teaching that was described as of less of grace and goes beyond Calvin’s own teachings, namely  “[t]he decrees of election and reprobation are said to be logically prior to the decrees of creation, fall and redemption.”(Culver 2005: 547)
[2] Emphasis original

[3] Bloesch goes even further to claim that ” [e]ven though incorrigible sinners may find themselves in hell, outside the holy city, they are not outside the compass of God’s love and protection.”(ibid 169)

[4] I did not include Christ’s died for ”all” passages (e.g. John 12:32; Rom. 3:22–24; 5:18; 8:32; 1 Cor. 15:22; 2 Cor. 5:14–15; 1 Tim. 2:5–6; Tit. 2:11; Heb. 2:9, Rom. 11:32; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9) nor ”the world”(e.g. John 3:16, 2 Cor. 5:19) because the term ”all” and ”world” are not used in strict sense (see Matt. 10:22 and John 17:16)

[5] a view that all humans either may or will be saved through atoning work of Christ Jesus.


Arminius, James (1853). The Works of Arminius ii, trans. James Nichols (Auburn & Buffalo: Derby, Miller & Orion, recently repr. 1853), art. xvii.

Bloesch, D. G. (1997). Jesus Christ : Savior & Lord. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

Grudem, W. A. (1994). Systematic theology : An introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

Reymond, R. L. (1998). A new systematic theology of the Christian faith. Nashville: T. Nelson.

Owen, J. Vol. 10: The works of John Owen(1862). (W. H. Goold, Ed.). Edinburg: T&T Clark.

Penal Substitution: Nothing But The Blood

For over 130 years, many orthodox Christians have sang and are singing Robert Lowry’s (1826 –1899) treasured hymn with joy, delight and awesome conviction that the Old and the New Testaments testify that “Nothing but the blood of Jesus” can wash away our sin, make us whole again, white as snow, and our sin atone. “Naught of good that [we] have done”. Nothing but the blood of Jesus is Christians’ hope and peace. This is all their righteousness. “Glory! Glory! This [they] sing—Nothing but the blood of Jesus, All [their] praise for this [they] bring”.

The story is changing. The blood of Jesus shed for our sin, in our place as God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness is nothing than “a footnote to a gospel that is much richer, grander, and more alive, a gospel that calls you to become a disciple and to disciple others, in authentic community, for the good of the world”(McLaren 2003: 215)

The notion of God so loved the fallen world (John 3:16) that He did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all (Rom. 8:32), a demonstration of His own love for us while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8) Christ died for us, so that by the grace of God, Jesus suffered and tasted death for everyone (Heb. 2:9) and we, thus, might live through him (1 John 4:9) since his atoning sacrifice (1 John 4:10) has freed us from our sins by his blood (Rev. 1:5) is sadistic and masochistic and in fact a form of cosmic child abuse, we are told.

In Recovering the Scandal of the Cross, Joel B. Green and Mark D. Baker, misrepresented penal substitution, I believe, as “God takes on the role of the sadist inflicting punishment, while Jesus, in his role as masochist, readily embraces suffering” (Green & Baker 2000: 30). They contented that “It will not do, therefore, to characterize the atonement as God‘s punishment falling on Christ” (ibid 113)

A Baptist minister, Steve Chalke, lines with Green and Baker, as he expounded:

The fact is that the cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse—a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith. Deeper than that, however, is that such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement: God is love”. If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil.’(Chalke 2003: 182-3)

Is it true that Christ Jesus representing us as he lived, dead and rose again to bore our penalty by his blood a form of cosmic child abuse? What is Old and New Testaments understanding of Christ atoning work? I believe it is in the context of redemptive history as told in the Old and New Testaments that we can begin to understand the notion of Christ Jesus’ death.

Puzzling that N. T. Wright endorsed Chalke’s The Lost Message of Jesus, he correctly warned us that it is “to easy to belittle [the interpretation of Jesus’ death]”. Wright agrees that each model has its point to make. “But important though” is the model of Jesus “’representing’ his people, and through them the whole world” since it is “not only in the gospels but in Paul and elsewhere, it will scarcely carry all the weight required”. He explained,

There is too, third [first being exemplary, second representing], a massive sense in which Jesus’ death is penal. Jesus has announced God’s imminent judgment on his rebel people, a judgment that would consist of devastation at the hands of Rome. He then goes ahead of his people to take precisely that judgment, literally, physically and historically upon himself, ‘ Not only in theological truth, but in historic fact, the one bore the sins of the many’ This is both penal and substitutionary, but it is far bigger and less open to objection than some other expressions of that theory. Once you put it together with the previous model (Jesus as Messiah representing Israel and hence the world), you draw the sting of the main objections that have been advanced against it. (Wright 2011: 181)

I believe Wright is very correct. In the next article, I will begin with Passover Lamb of Exodus 12, sacrificial system of Leviticus 14 – 16, and the suffering Servant of Isaiah 52- 53 to show that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.” (Hebrews 9:22 ), “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”(Matt 20:28 ESV emp. added) and that “Christ Jesus’ blood of the covenant,[…] is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”(26:28 ESV).

Question: Why did N. T. Wright, who defended superbly penal substitution model in his works, endorsed Steve Chalke’s The Lost Message of Jesus which rejects this model?

Next: Penal Substation: The Lamb and the Suffering Servant

Previous: Penal Substitution: In My Place He Stood


McLaren, Brian (2003). “The Method, the Message, and the Ongoing Story” in The Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives. Leonard I. Sweet, Andy Crouch, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Brian D. McLaren, Erwin Raphael McManus, Michael S. Horton.

Green, Joel B. & Baker, Mark D. (2000). Recovering the Scandal of the Cross. Downers Grove: Inter Varsity.

Chalke, Steve (2003). The Lost Message of Jesus: Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Wright, Tom (2011). Simply Jesus: Who he was, what he did, why it matters. HarperCollins Publishers.

Bloody photograph is from Dexter.

Penal Substitution: In My Place He Stood

Is it beneath dignity and self-respect to believe in a God who had to kill in order to forgive? “More and more evangelicals believe Christ’s atoning death is merely a grotesque creation of the medieval imagination,” reports Christianity Today.

Isabel Carter Heyward, Professor of Theology at Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge contends that “forgiveness does not come through the blood of Christ” Interviewed by Abby Noll, “[Heyward] deletes “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” when celebrating the Eucharist. Instead, she teaches that we are the “living sacraments” of atonement when we show “compassion and non-violence”. Forgiveness does not come through “blood sacrifices” but through compassion and solidarity.”(Noll 2000: n.p)

Heyward is not alone in rejecting penal substitution, Clack Pinnock and Robert Brow[1] contended that “Christ is not appeasing God’s wrath. God is not sadistically crucifying His beloved Son. We are not talking about retribution or criminal proceedings. The cross is a revelation of a compassionate God. Suffering love is the way of salvation”.( Pinnock & Brow 2001: 27)

How does a holy and righteous God justifies sinners? Is it true that God can simply forgive sinners without blood sacrifice? This is the problem I am attempting to answer as I explore penal substitution, a notion that stabs to make sense of what the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus achieved.

A concise Biblical answer could be given by combining Hebrews 9: 22b: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” and Hebrews 10:4 “[it was] impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”(ESV) together. I have divide this article in three parties so I can fairly attempt to present the notion of penal substitutionary atonement and also answer some of the popular objections.

The notion of atonement as we encounter in Old Testament, predominantly in Leviticus 16, describes a framework of purification as a sinner involves herself in a ritual cleansing and offering sacrifice to atoned for her transgressions against God’s righteousness and holiness.

N. T. Wright quotes D. P. Wright explaining:

While throughout the year the impurity of individual or community sins may be purged as they arise, once a year a special rite must be performed that cleanses the sanctuary of impurity from deliberate sins and from any other lingering impurity not yet rectified.(Wright 1996: 410)

“[A]tonement is a multifaceted event”, explained R.C. Sproul, “Jesus is shown providing surety for our debt to God, mediating the enmity between us and God, and offering Himself as a substitute to suffer God’s judgment in our place.”(Sproul 2007: 53)

Stealing the thought of Anselm of Canterbury, I believe the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus paid the penalty that man owed God for his sin and none but man must pay. But only God-man was able to fully and perfectly bore the just condemnation as a substitute in place of those who belong to His Father.

In the next article I will attempt to unpacked the above paragraph as we explore both the Old and the New Testament doctrine of atonement.

Next: Penal Substitution: Nothing But The Blood

Previous: Atonement: Dancing With Theories

Question: Why is more and more contemporary Christians find it offensive to speak of the blood of Jesus?


[1] In The Story We Find Ourselves (2003) Brian McLaren also attack penal substitutionary atonement.


Nolly, Addy (2000): Herstory and Heresy: A Feminist/Womanist Perspective on Jesus

Pinnock, H. Clark & Brow, Robert C.(1994): Unbound Love: A Good News Theology for the 21st Century. Intervarsity Pr.

Wright, N. T. (1996). Jesus and the victory of God. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Sproul, R. C. (2007). The Truth of the Cross (53). Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.