In my series of posts that have concerned themselves with Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) I have critiqued this theory with having, at least, two crucial flaws. Before I get into the second problem, I would like to make clear that by “crucial flaws,” I mean that this theory cannot sustain itself as being necessitated by Scriptures teaching on atonement. It may still be true but it is not demanded by the witness of Scripture. Just because something is not “Biblical” does not mean it is not true or factual. My wife loves me this is true and the Redskins are terrible (again!) this is factual but neither of these things are “BIblical.” So my point is merely that if the Scriptures are authoritative for Christians and they do not explicitly or implicitly (on a fundamental level) witness to this teaching than it is not “Biblical.”
Now, quickly in review, it is important to remember that I claimed that the first crucial flaw in the PSA argument is that it requires that God’s character is so “just” that he cannot simply forgive sin without propitiating himself, that is, his wrath is real and it must be dished out since it is deserved and due for sins. I brought up the fact that God in many places in the O.T Scriptures simply forgives without even requiring a sacrifice. Even “High-handed Sin” of which the Torah gives no sacrifice is forgiven without sacrifice (see Golden Serpent story in Numbers).
The second “crucial flaw” in the PSA theory is, in my opinion, that it assumes that atonement was a form of punishment for things done wrong, like a breach of contract or rebellious activity. Unfortunately for PSA theory this is simply not true. Take for instance a house (Lev. 14:53), a woman who just gave birth (Lev 12) and the sanctuary (Lev 16:15), must at times “make atonement” for themselves/itself. Obviously, the concept of atonement in the O.T. Scriptures did not equal a payment for sin. (Although, I do not nor am I trying to deny that payment for sin is contained within the concept of atonement.) My main point is that built within the mechanism that supposedly makes PSA necessary is that the death of the atoning sacrifice was so that God could release his wrath onto the said substitute. This is clearly superficial since the O.T Scriptures conceive of atonement being necessary when no sin has been committed.
In the next post I will lay out an alternative understanding of atonement that includes purification and ransom but does not in anyway act as means by which God relieves wrath. Instead, I will argue, that the atonement is a payment of a lesser degree that God in his grace allows to function as repayment for offending him.