“…where the idea of the wrath of God is ignored, there also will there be no understanding of the central conception of the Gospel: the uniqueness of the revelation in the Mediator.”
Emil Brunner The Mediator p.152
I had not intended to write anything about Easter (which is why I’m horribly late to the party!) but as I read and reflected on this significant part of the year I became increasingly aware of how fashionable it is becoming for modern Christians to have a go at penal substitutionary atonement (from now on PSA).
I was reminded of the debate between evangelicals and progressives by watching the discussion between Andrew Wilson and Steve Chalke on ‘Unbelievable’ a few weeks ago and since have found numerous Christian bloggers defending Chalke’s view. I was finally compelled to write something after hearing one Christian blogger declare:
“What saves us is not that Jesus died for us.”
Jim McDermott Why Good Friday is too often like a bad Indiana Jones movie (April 2014)
Now of course not all who disagree with PSA are willing to go that far in their language but there is certainly one particular meaning of that phrase they are rejecting.
[I apologize in advance because this is going to be a long post. This represents at least five years of wanting to say something on this subject and if it’s too much for one sitting that’s fine. It took me about twenty sittings to write it. I do hope that you will read it to the end though – especially if you disagree with me! I am not claiming to say anything new but rather to explain why PSA is often misrepresented. There are clearly some serious problems, for those who take a high view of Scripture at least, if PSA is dropped in terms of explaining many biblical passages and the doctrine of the justice of God but I will have to save those problems for another time.]
I don’t know about you but when I read a modern Christian disagreeing with PSA I always end up feeling they don’t really understand the doctrine they are disagreeing with.
A classic example of this would be Steve Chalke:
“How then, have we come to believe that at the cross this God of love suddenly decides to vent his anger and wrath on his own Son? The fact is that the cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse – a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offense he has not even committed.”
Steve Chalke and Alan Mann The Lost Message of Jesus (2003) p.182
Here are the complaints from self-proclaimed ‘post-evangelical’ Dave Tomlinson:
“…the cross did not bring about forgiveness – this existed already; but rather, Jesus enacted and represented the forgiveness which has always been there in the heart of God. His attitude does not change toward us; instead our attitude towards him changes as we see forgiveness acted out before us.”
No wonder just a few sentences later he asks:
“Does it [that is to say his reading of the theology of the cross] exalt love at the cost of righteousness?”
Dave Tomlinson The Post-Evangelical 1995 p.100,1
Or more recently by Brian Zahnd:
“The Bible is clear, God did not kill Jesus. Jesus was offered as a sacrifice in that the Father was willing to send his Son into our sinful system in order to expose it as utterly sinful and provide us with another way. The death of Jesus was a sacrifice in that sense. But it was not a sacrifice to appease a wrathful deity or to provide payment for a penultimate god subordinate to Justice.”
How does “Dying for our sins” work? (April 2014) [Emphasis authors.]
Yet all these sentiments are a far cry from the doctrine expressed within evangelical scholarship. What Chalke, Tomlinson and Zahnd all have in common is that they appear to misconceive how PSA is expressed by those who hold to it, they fail to engage with the scholars they are disagreeing with, and they also completely ignore the passages in the Bible which have traditionally been taken to be teaching it. Obviously, I’m not the first person to notice this. In a classic treatment on the subject Jeffery, Ovey, and Sach complain:
“…the most pressing reason why this book is necessary is that the misconceived criticisms of penal substitution show no sign of abating, and the resulting confusion within the Christian community seems to be increasing rather than decreasing. As Carl Trueman remarked, ‘The classical evangelical position on atonement has fallen out of favour over recent years, often rejected on the basis of a theologically caricatured and historically inadequate understanding of what exactly the position entails.'”
Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey, Andrew Sach Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the glory of penal substitution (2007) p.31
In this post I wish to clarify what PSA is generally considered to be by those who hold to it and to dispel a few modern myths about it. I am under no illusion that I will be able to convince a progressive Christian to believe it but I think that is because of a deeper issue which separates us and that is the question of what gets to be the final arbiter of Christian doctrine.
You will notice that the theologians I am most influenced by on this matter are John Stott and Leon Morris. If you are a Christian who takes the authority of the Bible seriously and yet you completely disagree that the Bible teaches PSA I would highly recommending both of them. My piece also relies heavily on the book by Jeffery, Ovey and Sach who, I think, have compiled a fantastic summary of the doctrine in their book just referenced.
What is PSA?
“The doctrine of penal substitution states that God gave himself in the person of his Son to suffer instead of us the death, punishment and curse due to fallen humanity as the penalty for sin.”
Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey, Andrew Sach Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the glory of penal substitution (2007) p.21
At first glance that might appear to be saying what the progressives cited above are criticizing but I think a deeper look at the doctrine reveals how misunderstood it is. It does not hold that God suddenly reacted in an emotive fashion to our sins (as expressed by Chalke). It is quite obviously not a form of child abuse. As I will point out in the next section, this is to completely misunderstand how the doctrine of the Trinity relates to the doctrine of PSA. It is also not suggesting that there is some higher standard of justice which God is himself answerable to (as expressed by Zahnd).
God the Father (and the ‘pagan’ comparison myth)
One thing I find to be so profoundly annoying among those who argue against substitutionary atonement is that they so frequently get the role of God the Father wrong in their criticisms. In their parodies the Father is either inactive in salvation or he is merely angry (in the sense of being in some emotional state) and Jesus manages to appease his feelings of anger almost against his will.  Some even make him seem like he reluctantly participates in the plan of salvation. But this is a seriously deficient view of the doctrine.
As Leon Morris notes:
“The atonement is not basically an impersonal affair nor a sole concern of the Son. It is rather something in which the persons of both the Father and the Son are exceedingly active. It is not an affair in which Christ takes a firm initiative while the Father adopts a passive role. In every part of the New Testament that we have so far examined the fact that the atonement proceeds from the loving heart of God has been emphasized.”
Leon Morris The Cross in the New Testament (1976) p.220,1
The point is also made by Ladd:
“Clearly, atonement is not an affair in which Christ takes the initiative while the Father adopts a passive role. Paul does not differentiate between the love of God and of Christ. Both are seen in the cross. Indeed, the love of Christ is the love of God, and vise versa.”
George Eldon Ladd A Theology of the New Testament (Revised 1994 Edition) p.465
“The idea that the cross expresses the love of Christ for us while he wrings atonement from a stern and unwilling Father, perfectly just, but perfectly inflexible, is a perversion of New Testament theology.”
George Eldon Ladd A Theology of the New Testament (Revised 1994 Edition) p.465,6
Guthrie makes it clear how this is far removed from pagan notions of appeasement:
“What Christ did was a substitutionary act by which God shows that his anger is turned away, so that men are now freed to come into a relationship with him. This is very different from the appeasement idea, in which the worshipper was obliged to adhere to certain rituals to persuade the god to change his attitude. In Christian thought it is God himself who takes the initiative.”
Donald Guthrie New Testament Theology (1981) p.470
So too, Carson:
“This marks the fundamental difference between pagan propitiation and Christian propitiation. In pagan propitiation, a human being offers a propitiatory sacrifice to make a god propitious. In Christian propitiation, God the Father sets forth Jesus as the propitiation to make himself propitious; God is both the subject and the object of propitiation. God is the one who provides the sacrifice precisely as a way of turning aside his own wrath. God the Father is thus the propitiator and the propitiated, and God the Son is the propitiation.”
Don Carson Scandalous p.64,5 (Emphasis authors.)
This approach is far more in line with the orthodox doctrine of the trinity as he explains:
“God presenting Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice is not an instance of “cosmic child abuse” in which God beats up on his kid… God demonstrates his love in that Christ died for us. You must not think that God stands over against us while Christ stands for us, as if Father and Son are somehow at odds, so that the Father takes it out on his Son. God desmonstrates his love by sending Christ. This is bound up with the very nature and mystery of the incarnation and the Trinity. This is the triune God’s plan. It hurts the Father to lose his Son, but he does it because he loves us.”
Don Carson Scandalous p.69 (Emphasis authors.)
Jeffery, Ovey, and Sach have a good passage on this too:
“From a historical point of view, it is important to recognize that the Old Testament rituals that form much of the biblical background to the New Testament teaching about Christ’s sacrificial death were radically different from many of the pagan practices of other ancient Near Eastern peoples. God’s people received detailed, lengthy descriptions of precisely how to conduct their sacrifices (see especially Lev.1-7; also Exod.29-30; Num.15,28-29), and were explicitly forbidden from imitating many of the rituals of other nations (eg. Deut.12:4,31; 18:19; Lev.18; 2 Kings 17:15-17; 21:2; 2 Chr. 33:2), particularly the appalling practice of child sacrifice (Deut. 12:31; 2Kgs 17:17; 2 Chr. 28:3; 33:6; Jer. 7:31; 19:5, Ezek. 20:31). The mere fact that the other nations also performed sacrifices should therefore not be allowed to obscure the huge differences between those practices and the Old Testament sacrificial system.”
Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey, Andrew Sach Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the glory of penal substitution (2007) p.227,8
John Stott notes two very key differences between pagan notions of substitution and the Christian doctrine:
1. God’s wrath is not volatile or erratic (contrary to the supposed comparison by Chalke and Mann).
2. The propitiation is not made by us but by God himself.
This makes the idea of propitiation completely different in Christian theology to ideas found in pagan practices.
Contrast all of that with what Brian Zahnd claims:
“Particularly abhorrent are those theories that portray the Father of Jesus as a pagan deity who can only be placated by the barbarism of child sacrifice. The god who is mollified by throwing a virgin into a volcano or by nailing his son to a tree is not the Abba of Jesus!”
[See previous link.]
Notice how Zahnd tries to poison the well by already asserting that the Christian doctrine is akin to the pagan practice. Then he, falsely, uses a comparison with child sacrifice which is repeatedly outlawed in the Old Testament. I suppose Zahnd, Chalke, Mann, and others like this comparison because it works on an emotive level. Who in their right mind will agree with child sacrifice? But this is to falsely conflate the meaning of the word ‘child’ with the word ‘son’. Adults can be sons. In fact, all historical scholars agree that Jesus was an adult at the time of his crucifixion and therefore the idea that one has a direct comparison with ‘child sacrifice’ here is absurd.
It also misunderstands the doctrine of the Trinity. Those who think that holding to substitutionary atonement commits one to two different types of God (one found in the Father and the other in the Son) are making a false accusation. Those who hold to the doctrine of PSA have a very strong doctrine of the unity of the triune God working his purposes of redemption through the Son. The triune God is the instigator of the plan of atonement, the triune God is active in the atonement, and the triune God’s expression of love for humankind is found in the punishment all three of them suffer in the divine separation which takes place on the cross. The Son was not only separated from the Father but the Father was also separated from the Son. We ought not forget that.
God the Son
Another serious deficiency among critics of PSA is the role of the Son. It’s common for detractors to claim this understanding of the cross indicates some abuse toward the Son and yet this criticism monumentally fails to take into account the participation of the Son in the plan of atonement for sin.
In commenting on the beginning of Isaiah 53 Jeffery, Ovey and Sach state:
“The Servant consented to, and actively participated in, this ministry of sin-bearing and substitutionary death, in accordance with the will of God to afflict him in the place of others. Isaiah carefully guards against the false idea that God inflicted punishment against the Servant’s will; indeed, ‘God’s responsibility for the Servant’s vicarious role is articulated explicitly after the Servant’s acceptance of suffering has been established in 53:4a.’… If we step back for a moment and reflect on the way that this text speaks of the ministry of Christ, then we find in this solidarity of purpose a wonderful testimony to the unity of Father and Son within the Trinity.”
Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey, Andrew Sach Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the glory of penal substitution (2007) p.59
Those who claim that PSA suggests that God the Father is being unfair on God the Son appear to fail to notice that this charge can be leveled at them as well and perhaps even more so. Let us suppose that the cross is only about God demonstrating the extent of his love for us. We could criticize this idea in the same way PSA is criticized. Only, in this case, there is no objective reason for the Son to die. There is no need for it. Surely God could have demonstrated his love in many other ways? Why did the Son have to die? And even if you can find a reason for Jesus needing to die, why then was a separation between God the Father and God the Son necessary? Why does that take place? Once you reject PSA from your understanding of the cross there really is no substantial reason for Jesus to die and it makes his death seem a rather unnecessary gesture and his separation from the Father appears to be unnecessary suffering (ironically thereby making the Godhead look rather abusive). The very criticism leveled at PSA applies to an even greater extent once you reject PSA and I find critics of PSA completely fail to notice this.
In the context of addressing the view that the primary message of the cross is God’s love John Stott writes:
“The cross is the epitome of Christ’s love and the inspiration of ours. But the question we desire to press is this: just how does the cross display and demonstrate Christ’s love? What is there in the cross which reveals love? True love is purposive in its self-giving; it does not make random or reckless gestures. If you were to jump off the end of a pier and drown, or dash into a burning building and be burnt to death, and if your self-sacrifice had no saving purpose, you would convince me of your folly, not your love. But if I were myself drowning in the sea, or trapped in the burning building, and it was in attempting to rescue me that you lost your life, then I would indeed see love not folly in your action. Just so the death of Jesus on the cross cannot be seen as a demonstration of love in itself, but only if he gave his life in order to rescue ours.”
John Stott The Cross of Christ (1986) p.220
In the context of atheists asking about the moral fairness of the sacrifice of the Son in some legal sense as being morally appropriate Alvin Plantinga points out:
“If God considers human beings guilty because of the sins they commit, then human beings are indeed guilty. If God approves, as no doubt he does, of his accepting the sacrifice of his son on the cross as a propitiation for human sin, then that arrangement is morally impeccable. If God is willing to accept the death of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, as restoring the moral balance, then indeed the death of the second person of the Trinity restores the moral balance.”
Alvin Plantinga Comments on ‘Satanic Verses: Moral Chaos in Holy Writ’ (in Divine Evil? The Moral Character of the God of Abraham edited by Bergmann, Murray, and Rea) p.114
Is penal substitutionary atonement something new?
It is unfortunately all too common to hear some critics of PSA suggest it is a doctrine which only extends as far back as the Reformers or, at the very earliest, Anselm of Canterbury (c.1033-1109). Oxford theologian Alister McGrath suggests the origin of this myth can be traced back to a book called Christus Victor by Gustaf Aulen in 1930:
“In a brief and very compressed account of the history of theories of the atonement, Aulen argued that this highly dramatic “classic” theory (Christus Victor) had dominated Christianity until the Middle Ages, when more abstract legal theories began to gain ground. The situation was reversed through Martin Luther, who reintroduced the theme. However, the scholastic concerns of Protestant orthodoxy led to its being relegated once more to the background. Aulen argued that this approach could no longer be allowed to be the victim of historical circumstances; it demanded a full and proper hearing.
Historically, Aulen’s case was soon found to be wanting. Its claims to be treated as the “classic” theory of the atonement had been overstated. It was indeed an important component of the general patristic understanding of the nature and mode of procurance of salvation; nevertheless, if any theory could justly lay claim to the title of “the classic theory of the atonement,” it would be the notion of redemption through unity with Christ.”
Alister McGrath Historical Theology (1998) p.286,7
Many have already shown how long and illustrious the tradition of penal substitutionary atonement is so I will merely cite sources you could look up to investigate this ridiculous claim. Chapter 5 ‘Surveying the Heritage: the historical pedigree of penal substitution’ from the book Pierced for our Transgressions by Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey, and Andrew Sach is the thesis you need to refute in order to suggest that PSA is a recent doctrinal development. 
Penal substitutionary atonement is usually held alongside other motifs
Those who suggest that PSA ought to be dropped often appear to suggest that there can only be one primary understanding of the cross or they suggest that proponents of PSA hold it to the exclusion of other motifs. This is clearly not the case. Again here are some examples just from what I can find on my bookshelf:
“Of course the idea that Jesus died in the place of sinners, bearing the punishment of God’s wrath due to them on account of their rebellion, is not the only thing the Bible teaches about the crucifixion. We find also, for example, that the cross was the means by which Jesus triumphed over evil powers (Col.2:15), that it offers and inspiring example to those who suffer unjustly (1 Peter 2:21-23), and that it brings about a decisive end to our old life of sin, that we might live as new people (Rom.6:6). The biblical portrayal of the atonement has many facets.”
Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey, Andrew Sach Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the glory of penal substitution (2007) p.33
N.T. Wright has said:
“I want all of the theories of Atonement because I think that they all ultimately do fit together, but if you just take one of them, say Penal Substitution, and take it out of its biblical context, the danger then is that you do just have a picture of God as a sort of bullying headmaster who because the rest of the class have been bad he picks on his own son and he beats him up and says, ‘Well that’ll do.’ And I dread to think that there are some Christians who really think that that’s what the story is like.” 
Both Stott and Ladd also make it clear there are other motifs:
“…Gustav Aulen was right to draw the church’s attention to the cross as victory, and to show that by his death Jesus saved us not only from sin and guilt, but from death and the devil, in fact all evil powers, as well.”
John Stott The Cross of Christ (1986) p.229
“Full recognition of the propitiatory, substitutionary character of the death of Christ must not permit us to overlook or to underemphasize the companion teaching that the death of Christ as a demonstration of divine love is designed to kindle a loving response in the hearts of human beings.”
George Eldon Ladd A Theology of the New Testament (Revised 1994 Edition) p.473,4
Even Don Carson, who sees PSA as a more important theme than the others, does not deny other models:
“With all due respect to those who insist that penal substitution is just one gospel metaphor of many, propitiation is in fact what holds together all the other biblical ways of talking about the cross.”
Don Carson Scandalous p.67
Christian philosopher John Hare, in the context of talking about understanding Jesus’ death as a sacrifice, notes:
“This is only one of the pictures presented in the New Testament. Colin Gunton stresses that the various pictures are required to supplement each other, and no one of them should be taken in isolation. Nonetheless, he thinks sacrifice is “the very centre of the doctrine of the atonement.” “
John Hare Forgiveness, Justification, and Reconciliation in The Wisdom of the Christian Faith edited by Paul Moser and Michael T. McFall p.87
Those who hold to PSA frequently make it clear that it can, and ought, to be held alongside other understandings which arise when considering what the full understanding of the cross. If there are proponents of PSA out there who hold that PSA is the only way in which the cross can be understood I’ve never read them. Who are they exactly and where do they say it? Until that evidence is provided this appears to be a criticism based on a myth.
Biblical justification for penal substitutionary atonement
When N.T. Wright makes it clear on video (as he has done in his writings also)  that he does hold to PSA he suggests the most obvious places to begin finding it in the New Testament are Galatians 3:13; Romans 8:1-4:
“Paul says that God condemned sin in the flesh of Jesus Christ. That is penal because it’s condemnation, it is substitutionary because what happened there in the flesh of Jesus Christ means that therefore there is now no condemnation… Romans 8:1-4 really says it all…”
Wright has felt the need to make it clear since some have suggested that Wright does not hold to PSA. This is a rather stunning misrepresentation since he has made it clear in his writings he does. Wright has said:
“No clearer statement is found in Paul, or indeed anywhere else in all early Christian literature, of the early Christian belief that what happened on the cross was the judicial punishment of sin. Taken in conjunction with [Romans] 8:1 and the whole argument of the passage, not to mention the partial parallels in 2 Cor. 5:21 and Gal. 3:13, it is clear that Paul intends to say that in Jesus’ death the damnation that sin deserved was meted out fully and finally, so that sinners over whose heads that condemnation had hung might be liberated from this threat once and for all.”
N.T. Wright The Letter to the Romans NIB 10:574,5
No wonder then that Michael Bird exclaims:
“How can one read this statement by Wright and then say, as I heard one “theologian” declare on a weekly podcast show, that N.T. Wright does not know “what to do with the cross”? That simply baffles me.”
Michael Bird Evangelical Theology p.406
“We must be careful, it is true, not to impute to God’s justice what is true only of interhuman affairs, but the idea of separation from God, and so death in various forms, as consequence and punishment for what we do and are against God, is both deeply embedded in Scripture and part of a typical Christian conception of divine justice.”
John Hare Forgiveness, Justification, and Reconciliation in The Wisdom of the Christian Faith edited by Paul Moser and Michael T. McFall p.90,1
The New Testament scholar Leon Morris begins his discussion on this topic by saying:
“Repeatedly Paul says that Christ died for sin and that he died for men. For the first point let us notice that He was ‘delivered up for our trespasses’ (Rom.4:25), that He ‘died for our sins’ (1 Cor.15:3), that He ‘gave himself up for our sins’ (Gal.1:4), that ‘the death that he died, he died unto sin once for all’ (Rom.6:10), that God sent Him ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin’ (Rom.8:4).”
Leon Morris The Cross in the New Testament (1976) p.217
“If Jesus allowed himself to be crucified at Passover time subsequently to instituting the eucharist, he inevitably proclaimed in the contemporary culture an understanding of it in this kind. I conclude that the claim of many New Testament books, that Jesus ‘died for our sins’, originated in the teachings of Jesus.”
Richard Swinburne Was Jesus God? p.107
The first third of Jeffery, Ovey, and Sach’s book is an extended look at the biblical justification for finding PSA in the Bible and is such a strong case I would highly recommend it for anyone who doubts. 
One of the biggest problems for those rejecting PSA, for those who take the Bible seriously, is what do do with the biblical narrative of salvation. From the fall of Adam and Eve, the covenants God makes with man, the Exodus, the Law, the Tabernacle, the sacrificial system, the judges, the Exile, the Prophets, the teachings of Jesus, and right up to the writings of Paul the problem is what to make of the fact that the Bible portrays God as angry at sin and requiring a punishment for it. For myself, I cannot see how someone can take the Bible seriously and yet attempt to lose the doctrine of PSA.
What I do hope is that critics of PSA will take more time and care to understand the doctrine they are claiming to disagree with. Too often it appears to be the case that they don’t bother and instead attack a straw man their opponents simply do not hold to. I think the genuine doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement is a beautiful doctrine without which one will struggle to make sense of the biblical narrative and the very character of God.
As Alvin Plantinga says, in the context of a propitiatory understanding of the cross:
“This story of atonement is the greatest story ever told, indeed, the greatest story that could be told…”
Alvin Plantinga Comments on ‘Satanic Verses: Moral Chaos in Holy Writ’ (in Divine Evil? The Moral Character of the God of Abraham edited by Bergmann, Murray, and Rea) p.112
“Amazing love! How can it be
That thou, my God, should’st die for me?”
Charles Wesley’s And can it be
 Here is Christian theologian Greg Boyd doing just that:
Boyd does not like the idea of there being violence at the centerpiece of God’s plan of redemption. But I don’t see how rejecting penal substitution solves that fact. The violence is still there if you reject PSA but now you have the even bigger problem that Jesus didn’t really need to die for our sins in any legal sense. So now the violence appears to be far more arbitrary and unnecessary. Does God really need to die in that fashion to demonstrate his love for us? Could he not have chosen some other equally valid ways?
Then Boyd attempts to discredit the idea merely because pagans had some primitive intuition about this (and he calls it a “demonic intuition”). But this is merely an attempt to discredit an idea by associating it with some group we would otherwise disagree with in order to attempt to make it less attractive and that is not a sound argument to make. Just because Nazis had an interest in ancient archaeology does not make doing ancient archaeology demonic. This is just mud slinging. Also he cites the example of ancient people’s sacrificing children to the gods to appease them but this is a practice which those who hold to PSA firmly disagree with since Scripture is so clear on it being wrong. The PSA model is not suggesting anyone but God himself can be such a sacrifice for sin.
Boyd is just horribly wrong when he asserts that if the PSA intuition is right then the intuition that children should be sacrificed to the gods is also right. This is just grossly mistaken and highly illogical as an argument. That’s akin to arguing that if I advocate for voluntary organ donations I must therefore advocate involuntary organ removals from unwilling (or unknowing) victims as the logical outworkings of my view on voluntary organ donation. That is, frankly, an absurd inference. I have a lot of time for Boyd but that ‘argument’ was just horrible. I think it’s because he was making a quick rant of a video rather than a carefully considered argument.
Chapter 5 ‘Surveying the Heritage: the historical pedigree of penal substitution’ of Pierced for our Transgressions by Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey, and Andrew Sach.
N.T Wright (though not agreeing with everything in the book still) says:
“…it firmly and decisively knocks on the head an old canard which is repeated yet again in a letter in the Church Times (20 April 2007, p. 13): that ‘penal substitution’ was invented by Anselm and developed by Calvin, and that it excludes and even contradicts other ideas, not least the ‘Christus Victor’ theme. Over against this, J, O and S offer a catena of passages from Justin Martyr, Eusebius of Caesarea, Hilary of Poitiers, Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Ambrose, Augustine, Cyril of Alexandria, Gelasius of Cyzicus, Gregory the Great, and Thomas Aquinas.”
The Christian philosopher John Hare also makes note of this in his paper Forgiveness, Justification, and Reconciliation (in The Wisdom of the Christian Faith ed. Moser and McFall) pp.77-96.
See also: Stott’s The Cross of Christ Chapter 5 ‘Satisfaction for sin’.
Philosopher Richard Swinburne on the need for objectivity in theories of the atonement:
 They begin in the Old Testament with an extended look at the meaning of the passover, the Day of Atonement, and the sacrificial system of Leviticus. A strong case is made for the Hebrew term kipper taking the meaning of ‘averting God’s wrath’ in many places (eg. Numbers 16 and 25). They then proceed to find the concept in the Psalms and the Prophets. They offer a substantial interaction with the Servant Songs in Isaiah and offer critical replies to those who have attempted to claim that PSA cannot be found in Isaiah. They also explain the New Testament use of Isaiah and how it is applied to Jesus. They then turn their focus to the gospels and make a specific study of Mark and John. They then address the writings of Paul and Peter.
This Old Testament background understanding of propitiation for sins is crucial for understanding this doctrine.
Old Testament scholar, Willem VanGemeren notes:
“The death of Christ is a part of the gospel message. Jesus ‘died for our sins’ in fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrifices and priestly system (Rom. 3:24-26;8:3). His death satisfied the wrath of God, evoked by our sinful condition (Rom. 5:9). The death of the Christ was thus victorious; he died for us rather than for himself (Gal. 3:13; Eph. 5:2; 1 Thess. 5:10; Heb. 9:11-10:18). The death of Christ was foreshadowed by the expiatory offerings in the Old Testament (the sin and guilt offering) and is efficacious for salvation and sanctification (13:10-13).
Jesus fully identified with the human condition in his incarnation in that he took God’s judgement of sinners on himself (Gal. 3:13). In his death for others he, as the last Adam, represented the human family so that he in his life might bring the benefits of his substitutionary death to all who are in him (Rom. 5:12-6:14).
The effect of Christ’s sacrifice is nothing less than what God had promised to his Old Testament people: covering of the sin, forgiveness, and cleansing. In the Old Testament the priestly system, the regulations of holiness and purity, and the sacrificial system foreshadowed the death of the Christ. The Old Testament people of God truly experienced forgiveness, cleansing, and the joy of their salvation because the wrath of God was propitiated in anticipation of the final work of our Lord.”
Willem VanGemeren The Progress of Redemption: From Creation to the New Jerusalem (1988) p.405