Penal Substitutionary Atonement: Payment is not equal to forgiveness

I haven’t given my atonement views much thought in years.  I admit to needing to challenge them a bit more in the future from my change of mind a few years ago on what the true punishment of sinners is according to the Scriptures.  But for now I wish to speak a bit on this subject as it was brought up the other day how “clear” this atonement view seems to be and how could someone possibly deny it?


Well, I do deny PSA right now.  That’s the Penal Substitionary Atonement view theory put on by mainly the reformed camp.  You can see a bit more about it at this link here.  I hope to make this a possible short series so I don’t overwhelm the reader.  We’ll try to take it on a little bit by little bit and compare it with some Scriptures and also look more closely at the commonly used verses to support PSA.

First of all one needs to take a step back and recognize their “theory” is not God-made. It is not laid out perfectly in the Scriptures as many claim.  It’s pieced together from Scriptures and consistency from a man-made model usually reveals itself in error when compared with all Scripture.  That means whether or not you admit to PSA you have to recognize it’s not as clear as you might think.  There are other theories regarding this the atonement such as “Christus Victor” and “Governmental.”  If you haven’t looked into those–I suggest you do also.  I tend to have a view that takes a bit from all 3 of the main views but it’s been a while since I’ve laid out my personal views.  Yes, I admit there’s a type of substitution going on in the atonement–but I don’t see the same view as PSA still.  Also, for me to equate my theories with the gospel itself would going be a bit too far.  I can only hope others recognize the same, but I remember in the past that wasn’t so common.

PSA is normally presented in gospel form by this type of presentation.  You broke the law, you deserve punishment(or owe a fine). God sent his son to take this punishment for you(pay your fine) and thus set you free from the punishment(fine).  You can hear this type of presentation often from open air preachers like Ray Comfort last I knew.  But my problem is this entire presentation is devoid of forgiveness.

For now, we’ll start with the subheading right now… “payment is not equal to forgiveness.”  Well, lets think about this… is payment really forgiveness?  Is payment of a debt the same thing as remittance of a debt?  Can a debt be paid and forgiven at the same time?

Maybe it’s best to put this in an analogy.  If you had a mortgage with a bank on your house and you were in trouble with paying your loan and about to lose your house… what would happen if someone came along and paid off your loan in full?  That would be great, wouldn’t it?  Yes it would be great. Someone saved you from your debt and loss of your house.  But if the bank called you and said your debt had been forgiven…  would you think that’s really a fair definition?  Wasn’t your debt paid off, even if by another?  It wasn’t really remitted, it wasn’t forgiven–it was paid.

Now lets put this in a person to person analogy.  If I loan a large sum of money to a friend and he realizes he cannot pay me back, what can the friend do?  He can ask for forgiveness of the loan debt, right?  If I realize he is sincere and not trying to deceive me out of my money, then I can forgive the loan debt.  What happens? Did I get my money still?  Did I get payment?  Did someone else pay that loan for him?  Nope.  I lost my money and received no payment.  The friend received forgiveness of his loan, not payment of the loan.


A friend I know recognized this issue when preaching this atonement view to sinners using the bank parable above.  When my friend told a young man that Jesus had “paid his debt” and all he had to do was believe… then the young man said there was nothing to be done on his part if the debt was paid.  My preaching friend tried to rebut saying “No, you have to repent and believe.”  But the young man was correct, if the debt’s been paid—you owe nothing.  The bank cannot hold you accountable to even believe the debt’s been paid if it’s already paid off!  The preacher recognized his views were flawed and admitted his error knowing he had to go study this issue in much more depth.


Lets lay it out straight.  If a loan is forgiven, it does not have to be paid(though I presume someone could still pay, but what’s the point of forgiving the loan, then?).  And if a loan is paid, it cannot be forgiven since it was paid.  Where’s this most clearly seen in the Scriptures?… Matthew 18.


Matthew 18(NKJV):

22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.

28 “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 30 And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. 32 Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ 34 And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.

35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

Next we’ll get into the problems with this picture of forgiveness given by the Messiah in contrast with PSA… because according to Jesus this short parable is also exactly how God will treat us.  And God can re-instate formerly forgiven debts according this story.


All Scripture is inspired… are you sure?

The reason I put that title is because many professing Christians that know the New Testament fairly well will quote this verse to prove that God inspired the entire Bible as we know it today.  Is that true?  Well it is very likely–but is it true from this verse which Paul stated?

One of the big issues I had in challenging my own presuppositions over the past 3 years was that of historical context.  I was doing better at thinking historically the more I studied, but I still had not applied it to many other areas of Scripture.  I’m not saying I’ve “arrived” either, please don’t misunderstand me.  But lets look a bit closer at this verse and put it into historical context, okay?

2 Tim 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,   ESV

So, when Paul wrote this in his letter to Timothy—was he referring to what you often hold in hand today as a Bible that was a compiled OT and NT?  Hopefully you would answer no, because it’s quite impossible for Paul to be writing this letter and this letter to obviously be IN the “Scripture” of the New Testament at that time.  It’s also obvious through more study that we know the Bible we have today was not compiled until much later… and that it has gone through editing in the past centuries such as the removal of the Apocrypha.  The point of this message is not to make an argument of when the entire Bible we have today was compiled though.

The point is, what is “all Scripture” which is inspired by God for teaching, rebuke, correction and training to live righteous?  Well, I think the only possibility at that time would have been the Tanakh.  That is the Torah, Prophets and Writings.   Taken from wikipedia for a short explanation.

  1. Tanakh is an acronym of the first Hebrew letter of each of the Masoretic Text’s three traditional subdivisions: Torah (“Teaching”, also known as the Five Books of Moses), Nevi’im (“Prophets”) and Ketuvim (“Writings”)—hence TaNaKh.

The Tanakh is all that existed at that time when Paul wrote that.  Yes possibly some Gospels were being written and spread through the believers–but they weren’t en masse yet, and certainly weren’t compiled into a NT yet.  Later on in the ante-nicene church writers begin to speak of the 4 main Gospels we have today as one unit and some of Paul’s letters.

Paul said the Old Testament is inspired by God for all those things in 2 Tim 3:16, which includes training in righteousness.   Where would Paul get training for righteousness from anywhere other than mainly the Torah?  If sin is against the Torah, and all sin is unrighteousness… then righteousness is known from the Torah, right?

So…is all Scripture as you know it today as a compiled New Testament and Old Testament inspired by God?  Maybe, but 2 Tim 3:16 doesn’t prove it if you think about it in a historical context.