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"Jesus didn't teach that his death was substitutionary and penal"

Everyone in UCCF is studying Mark's gospel at the moment, so that students in our mission teams are equipped to open that book up with people who aren't Christians. And then I read this, Adrian's summary of Steve Chalke's "arguments" against penal substitution

Claim: Jesus didn't teach that his death was substitutionary and penal.

I'm not sure that's actually accurate, but even if he didn't explicitly teach then the argument betrays a twisted doctrine of scripture. And that's what I want to write about here.

The argument suggests that if we don't have Jesus gathering the crowds ands saying "Let me tell you about this doctrine called penal substitution" then it's not there. It's the same argument used to say "he didn't say he's God" or he didn't teach "Trinity". When you read the books as literature these things stand out page after page as being there.

From Genesis to Revelation it's all Jesus teaching.

All of it. We don't actually have anything strictly original from Jesus because he'd have spoken Hebrew and the gospels were written in Greek - but no matter, everything that Mark puts in his gospel is what Jesus wants to say. Not just the words from his mouth but the structure, the contexts, the situations. The gospels don't just teach the red words from Jesus' lips. The whole document teaches. And I love that. The riches contained in the gospels are magnificient (as are the other 62 books of the Bible) if we'll let them speak on their own terms in their own ways.

It's the kind of flimsy doctrine of scripture that The Jesus Seminar use. Liberalism dressed up in evangelical clothing.

Back on the penal substition (and hell) side of things. The point isn't "does Jesus speak of it" in the gospel accounts. The question is - taking these books as books, is it there. Incidentally that's why I think the last Bond is better than people think it is - the script is minimal, and the scenes are emotionally cold and detached - but I think that's the point. You have to take it as a whole not just in bits.

It's hard to read Mark 13-16, as I have been recently, without seeing that God is angry with human sin - and is doing something extreme to save such people. I mean, there is a lot going on there. It's the end of the world. It's the beginning of the kingdom of God. But right there in the middle of it - is Jesus wrestling with a cup that must be the cup of the LORD's wrath, and then hanging on a cross in darkness, where both cross and darkness mean judgement and curse.

People make claims about what is and isn't in the gospels. But when you stop claiming and start actually working through the text passage by passage it really looks like wrath and hell are there, along with love, and victory, and freedom and a whole lot of other glorious stuff that the church has rejoiced in for two millenia.


  1. I heard a good one the other day.

    If Jesus' death wasn't penal and substitutionary, what reason could possibly be good enough for the Father to give up his Son for? Moral example? Unlikely.

  2. Did you really have to mention the latest bond film in a thread on Penal Substitution? It doesn't come out in Japan till January and I'm trying to hide from any mention of it!

    But besides that, good post! I haven't really read any of the debate first hand so this may be an easy question but do you know what Steve Chalke does with Jesus' quotations of the scriptures, such as psalm 22? I don't know how anyone could read them and not see that Jesus actually did teach that His death was much more than just demonstrative of love.

  3. Sorry to slip it in - though no spoilers there.

    Not sure what the answer to the question is - good Biblical Theology clarifies most theology.

  4. I seem to remember from Lost Message that with Psalm 22 he manages to ignore the weight of it by looking to the statement of faith at the end. After all, when a Jew quotes Scripture, it's with the whole in mind: so it is gloriously true that Jesus is thinking of the whole, including, "they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it." That gets me singing :) - tetelestai! And Romans 3 God's righteousness given to us so God is righteous. Glorious. But anyway, as I said, I think in Lost Message he uses that (in a very lite way) to gloss over the down-side of the Psalm.


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