JD Walters raises three objections to penal substitution:
“I've read the introduction and some chapters [of Pierced for Our Transgressions] and I don't think the authors do a good job of responding to the moral and logical difficulties of the idea of penal substitution.”
i) Suppose that’s a deficiency of the book. It seems to me that the book in question is mainly an exercise in exegetical theology rather than philosophical theology.
ii) This brings us to the next point. Is it JD’s position that every Biblical teaching must receive independent philosophical justification before we are obligated to believe it?
If so, that overlooks the underlying principle of revealed religion: some truths are revealed truths because their truth is inaccessible to ordinary channels of knowledge, like sense knowledge. We don’t know why God commands some things or does some things unless he volunteers his rationale.
It would be more efficient to establish the Bible as the word of God. In that event, if the Bible teaches penal substitution, then that teaching is authorized by the nature of the source. We don’t require independent philosophical justification for each individual teaching. That fact that God reveals it is sufficient warrant.
2. Personal Responsibility
“Penal substitution goes against the clear biblical standard of justice whereby only those who sin will suffer the penalty of their sin, and the innocent cannot be punished in place of the guilty (note that this does mean one person's sin can't have bad consequences for an innocent person, but simply that the innocent person cannot be said to suffer the guilty person's penalty).”
i) One of the problems with this statement is that it begins at the wrong level of abstraction. The question at issue is not, in the first place, the specific question of whether one party can be punished for the actions of another, but the general question of whether Scripture inculcates a vicarious principle–of which collective punishment would be a special case or special application.
On the face of it, it’s easy to come up with examples of corporate responsibility:
a) We have the programmatic statement in Exod 20:5-6 (par. 34:7; Num 14:18; Deut 5:9-10; 7:9-10).
b) In the Abrahamic covenant, God and Abraham are the two contracting parties. Yet that arrangement is binding on Abraham’s posterity.
c) Likewise, God, Moses, and, to some extent the Exodus generation, are the contracting parties to the Mosaic covenant, yet the terms of the Mosaic covenant bind subsequent generations of Israelites.
d) Likewise, Paul, in Rom 5, indicates that Adam’s posterity is held responsible for Adam’s sin.
ii) In addition, we have particular instances in Scripture where a second party is punished for the misdeeds of another party.
a) The fate of the Saulides in 2 Sam 21 is a case in point. Their ritual execution is an act of propitiatory restitution for the misdeeds of their deceased father, King Saul.
Moreover, this isn’t simply a case in which the narrator relates an incident without endorsing the incident. For the effect of the execution is to purge the land of bloodguilt, thereby lifting the divinely-imposed famine.
b) Another example is 2 Kgs 24:3-4.
iii) JD doesn’t tell us where he finds the “clear Biblical standard” of personal responsibility–as over against corporate responsibility. Perhaps he’s alluding to stock prooftexts like Deut 24:16 & Ezk 18:4.
If so, then what we have is prima facie evidence for a Biblical standard of personal responsibility alongside prima facie evidence for a Biblical standard of corporate responsibility. I don’t see that the Scriptural witness to corporate responsibility is less clear than the Scriptural witness to personal responsibility. At a superficial level, we have apparent tension between two different principles.
The immediate question at issue is not how JD proposes to resolve that apparent tension. Rather, the immediate problem is that his one-sided appeal fails to even acknowledge the counterevidence.
iv) One possible way of harmonizing the two sets of statements is to note that, in Deut 24:16, there’s a corollary between legal accountability and individual accountability. Israelites are not to punish a man for the crimes of a second party.
That would be in distinction to God’s prerogative, where God reserves the right to punish a man for crimes committed by a second party. A difference between the divine and the human administration of justice.
Underlying this distinction might be the fact that even a divinely inspired law-code dispenses rough justice. Only the final judgment will render perfect justice. In the meantime, the law code exists to establish some general boundaries of socially permissible or impermissible conduct.
This can be someone arbitrary in various individual cases, which is why an OT judge must exercise appropriate discretion in considering legislative intent as well as mitigating circumstances.
That, of course, still doesn’t address the question of “fairness,” but for now I’m simply expounding the Biblical standards.
v) Ezk 18 isn’t as clearcut as popular prooftexting would suggest. For one thing, this is set in the historical context of the Babylonian exile. Yet the Babylonian exile was, itself, a collective punishment for the cumulative sins of generations covenant-breakers. And personally innocent parties like Daniel were swept up in the collective punishment.
Arminians get this backwards. The point is not that personal responsibility obviates corporate responsibility; rather, corporate responsibility doesn’t obviate personal responsibility. The exilic community can’t simply blame its current woes on the misdeeds of its errant forebears. It must move forward on its own. The specter of ancestral guilt doesn’t mean the present generation is trapped in the past. For there’s the standing duty to repent, which has future repercussions.
3. OT offerings
“Penal substitution rests on a misunderstanding of the sense in which sin-offerings and other sacrifices were substitutionary. Jesus was a substitutionary sacrifice, but not a penal one.”
This commits a level-confusion. It fails to distinguish between what these offerings did, and what they signified. The fact that these offerings weren’t inherently expiatory doesn’t mean they don’t typify penal substitution. That confuses type and antitype, sign and significate. Although they don’t effect vicarious atonement or penal substitution, they illustrate those principles and prefigure their fulfillment.