The Flaws of Substitution Theories

No substituteThere are many theories of the ‘atonement’. For that matter, the word ‘atonement’ was invented many centuries later by Tyndale (“at-one-ment”) to translate the same Greek word that is also translated “reconciliation.” Reconciliation simply means a return to favor.

“And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;” 2 Cor. 5:18

“God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. 2 Cor. 5:19 “

Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.” Heb. 2:17

Clean, pure, right living in this present age, redeemed from every lawless deed! Such is the language of the Bible. Yet today any thinking person would have a difficult time believing that the real purpose of Christ’s Gospel is a radical moral transformation of mankind’s desires, opinions, and inclinations, given the sordid state of professed Christians concerning personal conduct. How did the ‘Church’ that represents Christ on earth get so far off focus of purity and righteousness, giving it lip service but NEVER practical application to their own life?

Without going down the long and winding road of human theology from 4th Century Rome to now, Christ’s mission became a “Substitution” instead of “Example, by the character and conduct of Christ to be lived by his followers.  What has happened is that right living took a back seat to imputation, and now the moral conduct imperative of the Gospel has been lost in time.  The moral character and conduct of Christ was to be an example to his followers so that they may receive the “gift” of life, which is a life of immortality in the kingdom of God to come. This is the purpose for which Christ was sent (Luke 4:43), to preach the good news of the kingdom of God. He started off by telling people they needed to repent, but this has taken a back seat to imputation of Christ’s righteousness (which the Bible never teaches) and all kinds of theories about the atonement.

However the lord Messiah  ‘Knew what was in man’ John 2:25, and said from the start:  

But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice.  For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

This truth taken from Hosea 6:6 that states fully:

‘For I desire mercy and not sacrifice and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings’,

This reveals the fundamental principle of God’s word that to OBEY is better than sacrifice so STRIVE to enter the narrow gate and “go and sin no more!

Herein is the crux of ‘religious’ man’s attitude toward God; rebellion, stubbornness and outright disobedience to God’s word.  And then the arrogance to expect ‘forgiveness’ to cover his transgression and heart full of guile while casting the blame on some external source and having NO intention of purifying himself of all unrighteousness. (1Sam. 15:22-26) This is the full expression of the SUBSTITUTIONARY theory invented in the twisted mind of man. The perfect excuse to pass off personal responsibility in favor of man’s supposed inability to do what is right to begin with. Thus you have doctrines of men making the word of God of no effect. (Matt. 15:6)

God has never required a Substitution for man’s sins or a Penal remuneration. Rather, He calls all sinners to repentance and faith PROVEN by deeds. (The scriptural evidence of this truth is overwhelming!) From the very beginning the ONLY reprieve from willful and deliberate sin was repentance in which the broken and contrite sinner purified himself of all filthiness and laid aside his overflow of wickedness in genuine godly sorrow with a heart free from guile and cried out for mercy.

There was no Sacrifice sufficient to atone for deliberate moral sins in the Old Covenant, and New Covenant as well. The penalty for such infractions was death, both spiritual and physical.  The following shows there was no prescribed sacrifice for the following sins under the Old Covenant, only the death penalty:

  • Murder – Gen. 9:6; Ex. 21:12-14, 20,23; Lev. 24:17,21; Num. 35:16-34; Deut. 19.
  • Smiting Parents- Ex. 21:15.
  • Kidnapping – Ex. 21:16; Deut. 24:7.
  • Cursing Parents – Ex. 21:17; Lev. 20:9.
  • Negligence with animals that kill – Ex. 21:28-32.
  • Witchcraft – Ex. 22:18.
  • Bestiality – (sexual intercourse with an animal) Ex. 22:19; Lev. 18:23-29; 20:15,16. Lev. 20:15,16
  • Idolatry – Ex. 22:20; Deut. 17:2-7.
  • Adultery (including sexual intercourse with father’s wife, daughter-in-law, mother-in-law) Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22-30.
  • Working on the Sabbath – Ex. 35:2.
  • Incest – Lev. 18:6-29; 20:11-22.
  • Consecration of children to idols – Lev. 20:1-5.
  • Sodomy/Homosexuality – Lev. 20:13.
  • Whoredom – Lev. 21:9; Deut. 22:21,22.
  • Sorcery   Lev. 20:27
  • Blasphemy – Lev. 24:11-16.
  • False prophecy – Deut. 13:1-18; 18:20.
  • Leading men away from God – Deut. 13:6-18.
  • Stubbornness, rebellious, glutton drunken sons – Deut. 21:18-23.
  • False dreams and visions – Deut. 13:1-18.
  • Rape Duet. 22:25
  • In the New Testament see examples in 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Eph. 5:5;  Gal. 5:19-21; Rev. 21:8; Gal. 6:8, Rom. 2:6-8

Sacrifices in the Old Testament could not cleanse these sins.  The only solution throughout Scripture is the necessity of repentance, to turn from their evil ways.  A classic example is in the case of David.  David had murdered and committed adultery.  These sins were punishable by death, but David pleaded with God and depended upon God’s mercy and kindness by going to Him in repentance.  Out of LOVE God forgave David.  God showed him MERCY rather than death and David’s relationship with God was restored.  No one had to be punished, there was no payment, and there was no substitute.

The blood of animals was never sufficient to once and for all crucify the flesh with its passions and desires. That requires a complete moral transformation from within through obedience to the truth.

Moral Government Advocates

Substitution in any form negates all of this and does everything by proxy. Even the gratitude angle under the Moral Government theory is not enough to enforce the Moral imperative of taking up the cross to follow Christ’s example. The reason why is because it’s a flawed understanding of the purpose for which Jesus came to begin with. Moral Government pundits insist that Public Justice must be appeased in order that God’s divine authority is not defrauded. In this manner Christ’s death on the cross balanced the scales of justice, so to speak. Jesus did not have to suffer the wrath of God or be blackened by sin (as under the Penal model), but according to Moral Government theory, he did have to satisfy Public Justice as an ‘alternative’ to divine punishment. Thus his morally perfect life and sacrificial death serves as a means of restoring God’s honor and allowing Him to extend forgiveness of sins to all who believe in His Son according to this theory. So Christ acted as man’s Substitute in that we now ‘AVOID’ the wages of sin and are restored to favor in faith.

No matter how one looks at it, it all leads to Jesus being our “substitute” (whether by the Penal Code or Moral Government to satisfy Public Justice) when Scripture never mentions nor gives the idea of him being our substitute in any manner.

The major flaw under this theory is the ‘alternative’ angle. In the Bible REPENTANCE is the alternative to divine punishment, NOT a satisfaction of Public Justice!

A person who holds the moral government theory states,

The atonement is the greatest influence upon our hearts to turn from a life of sin unto a life of loving holiness unto the Lord. It is by grace through faith that we are saved, not merely from the penalty of sin but from the practice of sin!

“The atonement is the greatest influence upon our hearts…?” Shouldn’t it be about repenting and believing the gospel of the Kingdom of God? What turned the hearts away from sin before Jesus was crucified? Jesus went about preaching the gospel, the “good news,” about the Kingdom of God for three and a half years before he was crucified. He sent the 12, along with 70 other disciples, to go and preach the gospel. Certainly the “greatest influence” upon the hearts of the people to turn from a life of sin was not the cross for Christ was not yet crucified. The gospel is more than Jesus dying on the cross. The gospel began with “repent” for the kingdom of God is at hand. To repent means to change your mindset and life direction and believe the good news. (Mark 1:15) The good news, the gospel, should influence us to change our mindset and life direction. The average sinner on the street is not going to be influenced just because we talk about Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins as if this is the full gospel. Where is the “good news” that brings us up to the crucifixion, the resurrection, and our future in the kingdom of God? Are they simply led to try and be filled with emotions of regret because Jesus died as a substitute for them on the cross and then try and believe their sins are forgiven so they will escape the torture of eternally burning in hell fire (another false teaching-see: Truth about Death and Hell)  and enjoy eternal bliss in heaven?  (Which is ANOTHER false teaching.  See Christians and Heaven).  This is not the gospel at all and filled with major errors.

Therefore, in what manner does a Moral Government teacher Preach Repentance? That’s the central issue in this discussion. IF the repenting sinner is coming to Christ as his Substitution to divine punishment, HOW can his heart be purified from the corrupting influence of sin in such a repentance? The ‘Clearing’ of wrong doing that results in a pure heart (2Cor. 7:11), becomes a ‘COVERING’ by which the sinner ‘Trusts’ in the sufficiency of Christ’s accomplishment to satisfy public justice instead of returning to obedience and actually DOING what is right to reconcile his past life of sin as God has always expected.

Wash yourself, make yourself clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil and learn to DO good!’ Isa. 1:16-17

Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. Isa 55:7 

The argument of Moral Government pundits is that Repentance alone is not enough to restore man’s confidence in Public Justice in that God would have to suspend the sanctions of His law in order to pass over the sin committed which would result in the public’s lack of confidence in His authority to rule. So a sinner’s repentance does nothing to remedy the evil done to the public’s welfare or serve as a means of motivating others to repent. How providing man with a Substitution that makes the difference is unclear. Man must obey from his heart to repent, all Substitution does is give him another excuse NOT to obey.

Therefore Moral Government is NOT a reasonable alternative to Penal Substitution. BOTH theories are severely flawed from the start because God has shown time and again He is willing to forgive man’s sin on virtue of pure mercy and loving kindness without demanding any form of Satisfaction or Payment.

When the ‘Church’ adopted these theories into their doctrine, it abandoned the fundamental principles of repentance and faith proven by deeds. God DOES NOT require a Substitution as a Satisfaction to divine punishment or in order to satisfy the demands of Justice. Although Scripture can indeed be misrepresented to imply these things, the language of God is MERCY not sacrifice.  As Jesus said,

“But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

He demands nothing more from man than a moral reformation of character and conduct. Christ provided him with the example and the imperative to deny self and live for God. (Which serves both the greater good of mankind and upholds the universal Justice of God, thereby fulfilling all the law and Prophets Matt. 22:37-40) This can only happen by releasing man from the bondage and corruption of sin and that isn’t going to happen by him accepting the notion of a Substitution and then repenting out of gratitude that Jesus satisfied the Justice of God to divert divine punishment. But since repentance is already a satisfactory diversion to punishment, it’s the slavery to sin man must escape.    And that is one of the reasons the Son of God was revealed: ‘To Destroy the works of the devil’ (1 John 3:8). How is this done? By believing and obeying Jesus the Messiah and, by following his example, man could have victory over sin, the flesh, and the devil.

Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.  Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 6:8

Among the early Christians Morality replaced Sacrifice. Purification occurred not by a multitude of offerings but by obedience to the truth. (1Pet. 1:22) The purpose of the commandment was purity, sincerity and love ( 1Tim.1:5). They were cleansed of all unrighteousness by presenting their bodies as a LIVING sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, no longer conformed to the world but transformed by the renewing of the mind. (Rom. 12:1-2) Actually living a life of sacrificial service to God was the means by which they were pure as he is pure. (1John 3:3) If they continued walking in the light then the blood of Jesus Christ cleansed them of all sin. (1John 1:7-9) Not by a ritual of blood (as under the old covenant) but by a reminder of the awesome price Jesus paid to Ransom them from the futile ways of the past.

And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed (ransomed) with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 1Pet. 1:17-19

The fatal error post modern Bible Pundits have made is applying an erroneous application of the Jewish sacrificial system in the Old Testament to the theological tenet of Substitution invented in 10th Century Rome. Herein you have the massive system of error stretching its tentacles over mankind.

Under the Sacrificial System of Moses there was no atonement for willful sins. (As listed above) These were the Sins unto death (1John 5:16) that meant instant disqualification from the Kingdom. (Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Heb. 10:28, Num. 15:22-31) Only God’s merciful kindness could spare an individual from eternal loss for these sins IF they take the  opportunity of what God has granted them (repentance Acts 11:18),  forsaking their wicked deeds. This eternal concept has not changed; God still requires full and clean repentance to receive remission of sins, otherwise, the wages of sin is still death! (Rom. 6:23). There is no negotiation.

For by this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 1Pet. 2:21-25.

paidConcerning Penal Substitution

The teaching that Jesus paid for our sins or that he was punished and our substitute is Post-Reformation theology. The bible does not teach Penal Substitution. This theory says that Jesus took our place on the cross and suffered the guilt and punishment that should belong to us, that he became a curse in our place. We get statements like “Jesus Paid It All.”

Charles Stanley says, “How can I lose Christ’s payment for my sin? Can God declare me “guilty” after he has declared me “not guilty?” He also says, “When Christ died, which of your sins did he die for? Which sins were you forgiven of when you trusted him as Savior? If the sins you commit after becoming a Christian can annul your relationship with the Savior, clearly those sins were not covered at Calvary.”

Scripture teaches that past sins are forgiven at the moment of repentance and believing the Gospel. (Acts 20:21, 26:20; 2 Peter 1:9) However, this theory has led to the belief that all future sins are automatically forgiven as well. This leads us to the doctrine of Unconditional Eternal Security rather than conditional as scripture tells us.

Also, why are scriptures silent as to who was paid? Since scripture states that Christ gave himself a ransom for ALL (1 Tim. 2:6) and if this was an actual “payment,” then in reality sin is irrevocable and we must accept Universalism. Since Jesus “paid it all” two thousand years ago, then “all” must be acquitted!

If we are to believe that the atonement was a payment then we are left with the idea that Jesus was punished on the cross. Charles Stanley says, “We trust that Christ was punished in our place.” Trust that Christ was punished? The only reason why he could claim a “trust” is because he does not have any clear statement that can be found in scripture. No where does it say Christ was punished or died in our place. The wages of sin is still death.

There are a couple of problems if we want to say Jesus had to PAY for sins. If Jesus had to PAY the debt for sin, then there was no true forgiveness. If a debt was paid then it was not cancelled as the Bible says. Nowhere in the Bible does it say Jesus had to pay or be punished for our sins. In fact, quite the opposite is said. In Matthew chapter 18 we see where a debt was cancelled without anyone having to make a payment or punished. If someone has to pay for sin, then sin is not freely forgiven. In the penal substitution, it simply has been transferred to someone else who happened to be an innocent person.

Some people may say that the Penal Substitution does speak of forgiveness, in that God can forgive sins because He punished Jesus. Just the thought of this should concern us. God punished Jesus? Let’s use the analogy of a mortgage to put things into perspective, and will show that such an act does not represent true forgiveness. Imagine a letter from your bank saying,

“Your mortgage does not need to be repaid and is forgiven, so long as it is repaid in full by one of your relatives.”

Obviously the bank has not cancelled the debt graciously at all! The bank is allowing someone else to pay it. Likewise, penal substitution suggests that God will ‘forgive’ so long as there is punishment in full. Yet that is not free forgiveness. It is simply transferring punishment to an innocent person (which raises another set of ethical problems).

Contrary to popular belief, such a transfer of punishment has no basis in Israel’s sacrificial customs. One could call this ‘forgiveness’ only in a very twisted sense of the word. The idea of penal substitution takes us far from the biblical picture of a loving God forgiving repentant sinners freely and graciously.1

Also, why would God go against the very things He commanded His people? That is, a person cannot be punished for the crime of another. (Deut. 24:16; Ezk. 18:20)

Another problem with this theory is that it voids God’s mercy. Mercy is the withholding of that which is due. If Jesus had to be punished for the sins of the world, this does not show the mercy of God since He demands that every sin be punished, and salvation cannot be of grace because the cause of salvation is by the merit of payment.

The Penal code conclusion is that if there had to be an absolute payment at Calvary and it brought a legal satisfaction because our sins were supposedly transferred to Christ on the cross, then all mankind are always free from all obligation and punishment. After all, Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.” Since all sins are paid for, everyone must be saved!  This only leads to the false teaching of Universalism!

Did God Require Human Sacrifices?

When the LORD your God has cut off before you the nations whom you are about to enter to dispossess them, when you have dispossessed them and live in their land, take care that you are not snared into imitating them, after they have been destroyed before you: do not inquire concerning their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations worship their gods? I also want to do the same.’ You must not do the same for the LORD your God, because every abhorrent thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods. They would even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. (Deut: 12:29-31)

Because the people have forsaken me, and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah have known, and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent, and gone on building the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it enter my mind; therefore the days are surely coming, says the LORD, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of Slaughter. (Jer. 19:4-6) See also Ps. 106:37-38 and Ezek. 16:20

It is apparent that God hates human sacrifices. It was so abhorrent to God that it didn’t even enter His mind! And we are to believe that God the Father wanted His Son, who was/is a human being, to be a human sacrifice when He is against such sacrifices?

The Scriptures do speak of Christ as a sacrifice for us (Eph. 5:21), but people think in terms that Christ had to be slaughtered in order for sins to be forgiven when throughout Scriptures God has always forgiven a person’s sin when they came to Him in repentance, turning from their evil deeds as He commanded and all He required.

Today many Christians are under the assumption that Christ’s sacrifice was somehow a punishment from God for our sins, who took the penalty for all sins ever committed to satisfy God’s justice. I don’t see this. Rather, I see scripture showing us that Christ was a living sacrifice as in sacrificial service to God as he taught us to be. It is a symbol of holiness. The wages of sin is death and always will be unless a person repents and lives for God.

When we are reconciled to God, we are not reconciled through punishment, but by repenting and living a pure life, as Jesus set the example. For more on this topic how the Hebrews viewed sacrifices: Sacrifice

The following words do not mean payment: Propitiation, reconciliation, justification, redemption, being brought near, putting away sin, suffering, dying for sin, ransom, and offering oneself up.

Nowhere does the Bible say Jesus was punished. For a person to be punished, he must be guilty to deserve that punishment.

Many will say that we are “bought” with a price and are a “purchased” possession, that we are “redeemed” and there was a “ransom.” All this is true, but it does not prove that Jesus was punished or that there was a “payment for sins.” Many may talk about the military men serving their country and how many have died during the war and talk about the high “cost” of freedom, and how many “paid the price.” There was a cost, but it was not an actual payment. One does not see “payment” in the scriptures, it can only be assumed if read into the passage.

What about Isaiah 53:4-5? Many look at that as though Jesus was being punished. They read the penal system into the passage. We should read it without a preconceived bias, for when we do, we will see that the passage does not explicitly or indirectly imply the Messiah was going to be punished. Note: “Yet WE OURSELVES ESTEEMED HIM STRICKEN, SMITTEN OF GOD AND AFFLICTED…” It isn’t saying that God was striking, smiting and afflicting His own Son. It’s how the people perceived it.

What about chastisement? People often think of chastisement as punishment. Chastisement carries the idea of discipline and correction. If someone were to bear the ‘chastisement’ for me, that does not mean the person is being punished. Punishment requires guilt. Christ was not punished and was not guilty.

In Isaiah 53:10 it says,

“Yet it please the LORD to bruise him.”

In Gen. 3:14,15 we read,

“And the LORD God said to the serpent… I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heal.”

This is not declaring punishment upon the Son or the Son punishing the serpent. In respect to what happened at Calvary, it brought the desired results; God in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. (2 Cor. 5:19) Christ’s crucifixion is confused with the wrath of God falling upon His Son, when this is not what happened.

God was not punishing Jesus, Jesus was not facing the wrath of God, God did not abandon or turn his face away from Jesus as he was hanging on the cross (see Ps 22:24) because He couldn’t look at sin; God sees sin everyday! What does the bible say? It unequivocally reveals Jesus SUFFERED:

“And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer…” Mark 8:31

“But first he must suffer many things….” Luke 17:25 ”

… I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer…” Luke 22:15

“Was it not necessary for Christ to suffer these things….” Luke 24:26

“So it is written, and so the Christ must suffer….” Luke 24:46

“…that the Christ should suffer...” Acts 3:18

“That Christ should suffer…” Acts 26:23 “

…Jesus suffered outside the gate.” Heb. 13:12

“…when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ…” 1 Peter 1:11

“…because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example…” 1 Peter 2:21

“…who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered…” 1 Peter 2:23

“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins…” 1 Peter 3:18

“Christ hath suffered for us…” 1 Peter 4:1

“…and a witness of the sufferings of Christ…” 1 Peter 5:1

“…and a witness of the sufferings of Christ…” 2 Cor. 1:5)

As one can see, Christ was not punished, was not under God’s wrath, and was not making a payment, but rather he suffered. I believe the theories of the Penal Substitution and Moral Government Substitution has its problems.

And remember in the beginning of this post where the word “atonement” comes from. The word ‘atonement’ was invented many centuries later by Tyndale (“at-one-ment”) to translate the same Greek word that is also translated “reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:18,19; Heb. 2:17) Reconciliation simply means a return to favor.

I would recommend a good read by Maruice Bennett. Click here to read “The Vicarious Death of Christ?”

See also “Response to The Flaws of Substitution Theories”


1. A.J. Wallace & R.D. Rusk [Moral Transformation: The Original Christian Paradigm of Salvation] p.304


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