I have spent a lot of time recently responding to progressive, liberal neo-socinian attacks on Substitutionary Atonement (SA), or Penal Substitution (PSA) and so I decided to keep the streak going. Patheos, which is one of the most popular liberal Christian hubs recently posted an article from Keith Giles who presented some unique challenges to SA. He presented seven biblical arguments I will refute.
First, I need to ask a rhetorical question: when did liberals start taking the Old Testament seriously? I wonder what Giles thinks of the Levitical laws against homosexuality, or its regulation of slavery, etc. Liberal theologians seem to really appreciate Moses’ Law only when it seems to suit their purposes.
1) Sin offerings had to be female [not male] animals according to Leviticus 4:32:
“But if he brings a lamb as his offering for a sin offering, he shall bring it, a female without defect.”
[Note: Jesus was not female]
This particular sin offering has an important context. Giles presents this sin offering as if it is the one and only offering, which is not the case at all. This was an offering only for “sins committed in ignorance” and it was only for “common people.” Directly above this the sacrifices specifically required for rulers were listed (which are male sacrifices). Thus, to discount the comprehensive sacrificial system which always requires a male sacrifice, other than this one exception, is misleading.
Admittedly, this one female offering is peculiar-which the variety of commentary perspectives reveals. Matthew Henry seems to agree with John Wesley’s interpretation that the female offering “was sufficient, because the sin of one of those was less than the sin of the ruler, for whom a male was required.” The logic being that male animals were more valuable, and since rulers are more accountable, they had a greater sacrifice. Other commentators imply that the common person should be read as a poor person, and thus their offering was a less expensive option. Both of these interpretations seem perfectly reasonable to me, though I gravitate more toward the latter.
Spurgeon on the other hand was much more creative, though I think to his peril. When preaching this text, he begins by admitting that he does not know why the offering in this case is female,
But I do not understand, and therefore, cannot explain why the victim was a female in this case, for most of the sacrifices were males of the first year—but this is peculiar in being a female.
He then begins to speculate unconvincingly. First, he suggests that the female offering is accepted to prove that Christ is the atonement for men and women alike:
Is it because there is neither male nor female, bond nor free, but all are one in Christ Jesus?
He then offers another train of thought. The offering is purposely unfitting in order to foreshadow that even a faith which does not perfectly understand Christ can still avail.
Or, am I wrong if I conjecture that this was intended to typify a view of Christ taken by one of the common people, and therefore it is purposely made incomplete? It is an incomplete view of Christ to have before you the female as the type, and the type is purposely made incomplete in order that this Truth of God may lie before us—that while a complete view of Christ is very comforting, instructive and strengthening, yet even an imperfect view of Him will save us if accompanied by real faith. . . On purpose, then, it seems to me that a victim was introduced which did not, with exactness, set forth Christ so that the Lord might say to His people and to us, “You have not reached the perfect conception of My dear Son, but even an imperfect apprehension of Him will save you if you believe in Him.” Who among us knows much of Christ? Oh, Brothers and Sisters, we know enough to make our hearts love Him! We know enough of Him to make us feel that we owe all to Him, and we desire to live for His Glory. But He is far greater than our greatest thoughts! We have only skirted the shores and navigated the little bays and creeks of Christ—we have not sailed out into the main ocean, nor fathomed the great deeps as yet. Yet what little we know of Him has saved us, and for His dear sake we are forgiven and accepted in the Beloved!
The above is proof that the Prince of Preachers is capable of making anything sound good. But what I find most interesting in Spurgeon’s comments is that, while this small detail is puzzling, it is of great harm to elevate its significance so as to miss the gist of the entire passage; indeed even the entire sacrificial Law!
If we should make a mistake upon some point, yet, if we are clear upon the main Truth of His Substitution, it is well with us. . . But the main point about the sacrifice was it was slain as a substitute. There is nothing said about its being taken outside the camp—I do not think it was in this case—all that the offerer knew was it was slain as a substitute. And, dear Hearers, all and everything that is essential to know in order to be saved is to know that you are a sinner and that Christ is your Substitute. I beseech the Lord to teach every one of us this, for though we should go to the University and learn all knowledge—though we should ransack all the stores of learning, unless we know this—”He loved me and gave Himself for me,” we have not learned the very first principles of a true education for eternity. God gives us to know this, this very day.
The fact remains that the Levitical sacrificial system had many sacrifices for many occasions, and overwhelmingly the sacrifices are male. It seems the burden of proof then falls on our author to explain how this one exception overthrows the vast majority of examples. Most importantly is the fact that whether the sacrifice is a female or male, it is still a sacrifice! The Law still establishes a system of blood atonement, the very thing the article seeks to deny.
2) Sin offerings could not have any wounds according to Leviticus 22:22:
“Those [sacrifices] that are blind or fractured or maimed or having a running sore or eczema or scabs, you shall not offer to the Lord, nor make of them an offering by fire on the altar to the Lord.”
[Note: Jesus had numerous wounds on his body by the time he was nailed to the cross. He had scars on his back from the whip and on his head from the crown of thorns, not to mention the fact that his beard had been pulled out by the Roman centurions]
This objection reflects a close reading of Scripture was not involved when looking for these verses. The “unblemished” sacrifice is meant to be a type of Christ’s moral perfection, not to His bodily health. This is why the author of Hebrews can explicitly identify Jesus as an unblemished sacrifice,
[H]ow much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14).
Apparently Christ was unblemished, or did the author of Hebrews not know of His scourging? Peter makes the same comment,
[K]nowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:19).
In fact, the “unblemished” and “undefiled” anti-type is so clearly of a moral character, the Bible describes the Christian church saved by Jesus as ublemished (Eph. 5:27), and even extends this to all Christians (Eph. 1:4; Phil. 2:15; Col. 1:22, among others). Most telling is that the conduct of men seeking to become deacons is supposed to unblemished (1 Tim. 3:10). Jesus fulfills this type by being perfect, not by never getting physically injured.
3) Sin offerings had to be taken to the Priest and offered on the altar inside the Temple according to Deuteronomy 12:13-14]:
“Be careful that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every cultic place you see, but in the place which the Lord chooses in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you.”
[Note: Jesus was not sacrificed on the altar in the temple by the priest. He was nailed to a cross by Roman soldiers outside the city on a cross. He was not burned]
Yet again, the New Testament directly addresses the issue of the holy of holies and explains how Christ’s death fulfills this type:
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:11-14).
Hebrews says Jesus is both the priest and sacrifice. He is the unblemished Lamb whose blood is spilled to purify us, but He is also the High Priest who offered Himself. By laying down His own life, He is the priest, He is sacrificing Himself. Additionally, the text very clearly says the fulfillment of the holy of holies and the Temple is spiritual in nature (heaven), not made by hands, not of this world. Thus, Giles’ expectation that Jesus would have to die on a literal alter in a literal, earthly temple misses the mark of the glory of Christ’s fulfillment as the New Testament presents it.
4) Human sacrifices for sin were an abomination to God according to Deuteronomy 12:31; 18:10 and Ezekiel 16:20:
“You shall not behave thus toward the Lord your God, for every abominable act which the Lord hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters [as a sacrifice] in the fire to their gods.” [Deut. 12:31]
“There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire [as a sacrifice]..” [Deut. 18:10]
“Moreover, you took your sons and daughters whom you had borne to Me and sacrificed them to idols to be devoured. Were your harlotries so small a matter?” [Ez. 16:10]
[Note: Jesus was a human being. PSA says Jesus was sacrificed for our sins.]
God forbids human sacrifices among His people in the Old Testament for a variety of reasons. But the primary one likely being that human sacrifices are unwilling subjects. Christ however, was more than willing. Recall what was just said above: Jesus laid down His own life.
No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father (John 10:18).
Additionally, God is not only forbidding child sacrifices in general, but is also prohibiting the Jews from sacrificing to the idols. There is an element of idolatry involved in those sacrifices not involved in Jesus’ self-giving atonement.
5) God does not allow any man to die for the sins of another according to
“No man can by any means redeem his brother Or give to God a ransom for him-For the redemption of his soul is costly, And he should cease trying forever”
[Note: Jesus called us brothers and sisters. PSA says Jesus died for our sins.]
This one is downright embarrassing. Psalm 49 is not discussing a ransom of life, but a ransom of money. Read the Psalm in context,
Hear this, all peoples! Give ear, all inhabitants of the world, both low and high,
rich and poor together! My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding. I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre. Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me, those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches? Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit. For he sees that even the wise die; the fool and the stupid alike must perish and leave their wealth to others. Their graves are their homes forever, their dwelling places to all generations, though they called lands by their own names. Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish. This is the path of those who have foolish confidence; yet after them people approve of their boasts. Selah. Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. Selah. Be not afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory of his house increases. For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not go down after him. For though, while he lives, he counts himself blessed—and though you get praise when you do well for yourself—his soul will go to the generation of his fathers, who will never again see light. Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.
The entire Psalm is about riches and wealth. It’s about not fearing when our enemies are rich because their riches cannot save them. This verse is not saying anything about whether the God-man is able, unlike my wallet, to redeem man. In fact, it lays the foundation for just how precious Jesus is. Notice what Peter says,
[K]nowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:18-19).
It is true money cannot save any man. Our sins are too costly. But Jesus’ blood is not money. His blood is far more precious than perishable things like money. And that is why His blood, unlike anything else in all of creation, is able to redeem us.
6) All are accountable for their own sins. A Father cannot take responsibility for the sins of his children according to Ezekiel 18:20:
“The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.”
[Note: PSA says that our Father God sent his own son to take responsibility for our sins.]
The civil code given to the nation of Israel forbade governments from punishing others for sins they have not committed, but that in no way contradicts the religious sacrificial system established by the same laws. For starters, the law establishes that justice does need to be met somehow, while Giles argues in this post relentlessly that God can just forgive us. This is quite contrary to the just penal requirement for our sins, which is precisely how Paul presents describes it in Colossians 2:13-14,
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
Notice how in this text forgiveness is directly linked to Jesus having to judicially, forensically, take care of sin. But there is also the ontological aspect for which must be accounted. Human beings, being sinful and fallen, are not capable of bearing some one else’s sins. Lastly, as has been mentioned, there is an important aspect of willingness. The civil code quoted above protected people from being forced to die for others, or for being wrongly accused, which hardly parallels Jesus’ willingly taking on the sins of the world.
7) The sacrifice that took away the sins of the people was NOT put to death but set free in the wilderness according to Leviticus 16:9-10:
“Then Aaron shall offer the goat on which the lot for the Lord fell, and make it a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat.”
[Note: Jesus was put to death.]
This is astonishing. Yet again, the author removes the text in question from context, and then speaks of the sacrifice in view as if it is the one and only sacrifice that shadows Christ. Read the text in its larger context:
“But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. . . And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering. Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel. Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. . . And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times. Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel. And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness (Leviticus 16:3-22).
In this long passage, there are multiple animals sacrificed for the sins of the people. This entire text is littered with blood atonement. Yet, he took the one animal that also carries sins away via scapegoat (likely to a demonic being) and addressed it as if the scapegoat was the exclusive, or even primary atonement in the text.
Giles concludes by expressing moral indignation toward SA and making unsubstantiated claims about how the Bible teaches universalism. However, the more interesting thing was his attempt to refute one anticipated response.
But, I thought there was no forgiveness without the shedding of blood?! Doesn’t the Bible tell us this? Yes, and no. What it says [in Hebrews 9:22] is that ‘under the Law’ there is no forgiveness apart from the shedding of blood. But we are not under the Law. [Something the author of Hebrews takes great pains to point out].
Sometimes the best way to refute someone is just to check their sources. Sometimes all you have to do is read what they cite. Yes, Hebrews 9:22 does say that under the Law there was no forgiveness without blood. But why does it say that? Is that only under the Old administration?
Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
What can be learned from what I emphasized? First, the author of Hebrews is arguing backward from Giles. He is not stating something that is different from the Old to the New, but is mentioning a place of continuity, and he is arguing from the New to the Old! “Not even the old…” presupposes this has been established by the New, and the author of Hebrews is reminding us that even the Old Covenant was set up like this. The fact remains that both covenants had blood that inaugurated them. That is why Jesus referred to the Lord’s Supper as “the blood of the covenant.”
But perhaps most importantly, after verse 22, the author of Hebrews says “Thus it was necessary…” So is 22 speaking only of the Old Covenant? Of course not! That is why the text says “thus it was necessary that the copies of the heavenly things…” So Hebrews argues that in the same way that blood was required to forgive and purify in the Old Covenant, it was then also necessary that the fulfillment of those types also require blood. The text plainly refutes Giles.
The end of chapter nine is a fitting conclusion to this post. How are sins put away? By Jesus’ self-sacrifice. God did not just forgive us. Jesus had to sacrifice Himself to put our sins away. He died, bearing our sins.
But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
Yes, Jesus absolutely did die for the sins of His people, He died in their place, the good Shepherd laid His life down for the sheep!