Friday, August 20, 2010

Vicarious atonement

Ken Pulliam said...
If Christ does not deserve to be punished and yet he is punished, that is itself an unjust act.

steve said...
We're not talking about just any old "person," but the divine lawmaker who sentences himself to acquit others.

steve said...

That still does not explain the justice of the act. If a judge decides to punish himself instead of the guilty, that may be his prerogative if he is sovereign over the law but it doesn't explain why the punishment is a) necessary..."

It is necessary because:

i) It is morally obligatory that injustices be rectified;

ii) If the guilty are to be forgiven consistent with justice, then retribution must still be exacted (though not necessarily on the offender).

"...or b) just. It would seem that the necessity of the punishment would have to be satisfy the demands of justice and yet it is itself an unjust act."

i) To say vicarious punishment is itself an unjust act is arguing in a circular.

ii) One of your problems is that you're appealing to moral intuition; however, many people find the idea of an innocent party volunteering to take the rap for a friend to be morally compelling.

iii) Apropos (ii), this works in reverse. If Jim and John have a mutual friend in Justin, and Jim offends John, then Justin may be able to intercede on behalf of Jim, as favor between friends. Jim is the vicarious beneficiary of Justin's friendship with John. John wouldn't do it for Jim (with whom he's currently estranged), but he will do it for Justin. John is treating Jim as if Jim were Justin. As if he were entitled to the same treatment as Justin.

steve said...
Ken Pulliam said...

"How does punishing someone who is not guilty of the crime rectify justice? The act of punishing such a person is itself an injustice."

That doesn't advance the argument, Ken. You keep repeating the same claim. But that's the very contention in dispute.

"The central element of retributive justice is that the person who commits deserves the punishment."

That's a red herring. Whether the offender deserves to be punished is not the question at issue.

"If as Lewis says..."

That's not a reasoned argument. That's an appeal to authority. The opinion of C. S. Lewis doesn't settle anything. That, itself, is something to evaluate.

Try that on Reppert, not me.

"...then to punish an innocent person is an injustice."

That's not unqualifiedly true.

"That is all well and good but that is not the same as Justin suffering the penalty that Jim deserves. How would it satisfy John's sense of justice if he punished Justin in Jim's place?"

Jim is getting better treatment than he deserves because John owes it to Justin. That illustrates the principle of transmissible merit.

steve said...

"You state that the contention that punishing an innocent person is itself an injustice is the very contention in dispute. Precisely and you have failed to show how it is not an injustice."

i) And you have failed to show otherwise. Repetitiously asserting your claim doesn't make it so.

ii) In addition, if all you're appealing to is moral intuition, then you can't prove your position. At best, you can cite illustrations which most readers find persuasive. But intuitive appeals lack the demonstrative value of, say, correspondence between belief that it's raining outside and rain outside.

Hundreds of millions of people find penal substitution intuitively compelling, so your intuition can't pull rank on their intuition.

The only thing that could pull rank is a divinely revealed norm.

"If you read about retributive justice you will find that the key component is that the person who commits the crime deserves punishment."

i) Once again, no one denies the fact that the offender deserves punishment. That's not the issue. The issue is whether a second party can punished in his stead. That's not the same issue.

ii) And at the risk of stating the obvious, ethics is a value-laden discipline, so it's not as if everyone from Aquinas and Kant to James, Singer, and Ruse (among others) is going to agree on the key concepts.

"The evil act is deserving of punishment."

So you think the act is deserving of punishment rather than the agent.

"To decouple punishment from guilt is contrary to retributive justice. It is blatantly unjust to put the punishment that someone deserves as a result of his evil act upon an innocent person. This is self-evident and is recognized by virtually all men."

i) I didn't know that virtually all men excluded virtually all Christians. For historically, millions of Christians have found penal substitution morally satisfying. Same thing with OT Jews.

And, of course, non-Christian sacrificial religion is also commonplace throughout history. The notion of vicarious atonement has been quite popular in time and place. That doesn't make it true, but it certainly falsifies your appeal to moral consensus.

"Again, go back and read your Reformed heroes, they all say that."

Imputation is a classic case of penal substitution.

"As to your illustration it may illustrate 'transferrable merit' but it doesn't illustrate 'transferrable demerit.' In order to show that penal substitution is legitimate, you need an illustration in which the demerit of one is transferred to another resulting in the just punishment of the innocent."

No, I don't. You have to show how the two are fundamentally asymmetrical.

steve said...
Owen doesn't recognize any such problem. He begins by defining the "formal nature" of sin as a "as it is a transgression of the law."

On that construction, what constitutes guilt, and liability to punishment, is a matter of what the law assigns.

And he goes on to say, "There is, therefore, no imputation of sin where there is no imputation of its guilt...therefore, which we affirm herein is, that our sins were so transferred on Christ, as that thereby he became אָשֵׁם, ὑπόδικος τῷ Θεῷ, 'reus,' — responsible unto God."

So, on his construction, it's possible for a second party to assume responsibility for the guilt of the first party.

You may disagree, but that is hardly a concession on Owen's part.

steve said...
Of course only the guilt is transferrable. In the nature of the case, one party's actions (e.g. sin) aren't transferrable to a second party, for the second party didn't do what the first party did. He's not the same agent. So you can't say a second party did it. It's not attributable to him.

But it doesn't follow from this argument that moral properties (merit/demerit) are intransmissible. For the same moral properties can be shared by more than one agent.

No one denies that "there is no guilt without sin." That's not the question.

The question is whether the effect of sin (guilt) is transmissible, and not what causes the effect. You keep confusing distinct issues.

"My point was that Owen, Hodge and virtually everybody recognizes that it is unjust to punish an innocent person."

You're confusing issues again. Owen, Hodge, et al. don't think it was unjust for God to punish Christ. That's a different issue from whether Christ suffered unjustly at the hands of Pilate or the Sanhedrin. It may be morally licit for a second party to permit another party to do something morally illicit.

steve said...

"How can guilt be transferred? Guilt is only caused by the demerit or evil action. If the acutal demerit is not transferred, then the guilt is not actual (it is a fiction)."

i) You're confusing actual guilt with an actual guilty action, as if those are interchangeable. But deeds and moral properties of deeds are not conterminous, since more than one deed can exemplify the same moral properties. I already explained that to you. You're not advancing the argument.

ii) How can Justin expect John to forgive Jim as a favor to Justin, when Jim did nothing to obligate John? How can John's obligations to Justin transfer to Jim? Yet, intuitively speaking, we regard that type of transaction as a defining feature of friendship. A will do a favor for C as a favor for B.

"Crisp was talking about the justice of God and he argued that hell has to be real in order for God's justice to be demonstrated. He says it was not demonstrated in the death of Jesus because Jesus died 'undeservedly.' If Jesus died undeservedly, then his death was a miscarraige of justice."

You oversimplify the issue. As I already explained to you, to say it was unjust for the Sanhedrin to convict Jesus doesn't mean it was unjust for God to allow (or decree) that event. You're not advancing the argument.

"Owen and Hodge think that it would have been unjust to punish Jesus (an innocent person) unless somehow the guilt of sin was transferred to him. Once the guilt is transferred, then it becomes just."

And transferring the guilt is, itself, just.

"My point is that their position undermines the argument that Crisp is making in his paper."

Crisp doesn't argue that it was wrong of God to punish Jesus. God is not the referent of the injustice.

Try not to chronically oversimplify the issue.

steve said...

“What is the difference between ‘actual guilt’ and ‘actual guilty action’?”

A moral property is not an action. Even if a moral property is the effect of an action, a moral property is not, itself, an action.

“It seems that what you need to be able to show is how the moral property of a deed can be disconnected from the deed itself.”

I already did that with my illustration of the three friends. Your only response was to postulate a possible asymmetry between transferable merit and transferable demerit. But you didn’t begin to demonstrate that postulate.

“It is also not clear how even doing this helps you with the imputation of sins to Jesus. What precisely was imputed to him in your opinion?”

The guilt of the elect.

“I take it not the deeds (sins) but the moral property (evil) that is attached to the deeds? If that is the case, how does Jesus escape the charge of possessing evil?”

Imputation doesn’t implicate his moral character, as if he’s personally evil.

“Crisp nowhere mentions the Sanhedrin or any human actions for that matter in his paper. He is talking specifically about divine justice and how that needs to be demonstrated. He maintains that particularism is necessary because God needs to be able to demonstrate his justice and that justice was not demonstrated in the death of Jesus.”

Crisp is a fairly orthodox Christian, so it’s not as if he’s impugning God’s character or rejecting penal substitution. He clearly doesn’t believe that God committed a grave injustice regarding the vicarious atonement of Christ. And in his article, he wasn’t attempting to justify penal substitution. That’s a presupposition of his article. Not something he tries to argue for in that particular article.

“How so? How would it ever be just to transfer the guilt of a crime committed by one person to another person?”

Take my analogy with the three friends.

“And how could one do so without transferring the actual demerit associated with the crime?”

There’s a difference between actual blame, and an actually blameworthy agent.

steve said...

“But it is descriptive of the qualitative nature of an action. There is still no way to separate the quality of an action from the action itself. If the action disappears or is not present, then the quality of the action also disappears.”

Well, that’s a rather bizarre claim. Does the continuing existence of an effect depend on the continuing existence of a cause? Do we die the moment our parents die?

“So its a legal fiction? He is treated as if he were guilty but in reality he is not?”

i) You have an inability to grasp rudimentary distinctions. Guilt is hardly equivalent to an evil personal character. Guilt involves a violation of the law, or a violation of a duty to a superior.

If a soldier defies a direct order from his commanding offer, and that’s a lawful order, then the solder is guilty of insubordination–yet the soldier may be morally justified in defying the order.

ii) Also, the whole notion of a legal fiction is something of an oxymoron. The son of a king enjoys certain birthrights that a commoner does not, even though he’s no better than the commoner–and maybe worse. But he’s entitled certain prerogatives due to his ascribed social status. That’s not a legal fiction, for his social status is legally defined in the first place. His relation to a second party (his royal father) automatically transfers the same regal standing to the son.

“Again, since guilt has no meaning apart from the action that produced it, how can the two be separated.”

Repeating the same tendentious denial doesn’t make it any truer on the tenth repetition. From the time you first commented on this post, all you’ve done is to paraphrase the same claim. That doesn’t rise to the level of a reasoned argument. You’re just moving in circles.

“Simply saying as you have above that one is the act and the other is the moral value of the act does not help because as I stated, if there is no act, then there is no moral value.”

There is an underlying act–Adam’s. The sins of the elect.

“Moral value cannot be attributed to something that doesn't exist.”

That’s absurd on the face of it. Are you claiming that we can’t make true, morally ascriptive present-tense statements about past events or individuals?

“While he doesn't say in his article that the punishment of Jesus was an injustice, he does say that it was not an act of justice and therefore for God's justice to be demonstrated, hell must exist. I think it is a blindspot on his part not to recognize that not only was the punishment of Jesus not an act of justice, it was in fact an act of injustice, if he suffered undeservedly as he claims.”

You continue to reiterate the same simplistic claim, contrary to my careful distinctions.

“It seems you have the same problem because you want to say that Jesus was punished for the guilt of man's sin but not for the sin itself.”

That is not what I said. He is punished for the sin of a second party. He assumes the guilt of the sin.

“Blame is an abstract idea…”

No, it’s a moral property.

“…and has no meaning unless attached to a person or thing.”

Of course, “attached” is just a spatial metaphor.

“How do you transfer the blame for an action to one who did not do the action?”

I already told you.

“You can only do so as an act of injustice. ”

That’s not an argument. That’s a tape recorder on playback. Repeating yourself ad nauseum like a loop-tape does nothing to further the argument. You really shot your wad with the first comment. You have no fallback argument. Nothing in reserve.

“Your analogy of the three friends does not illustrate imputation or the penal sub. theory. You have an innocent person mediating for a guilty person and the offended person agreeing to forgive the guilty person and treat him as if nothing happened because of his admiration and respect for the innocent person. Yes, that can happen and it would be closer to Thomas Aquinas' view of the atonement than to the Penal Sub. theory. For in your analogy, the offended party is forgiving the guilty party on the basis of the superlative righteousness of the mediator not because the mediator is suffering the punishment that the guilty party deserves. In your analogy, the offended party is giving up his right to demand punishment.”

You’re missing the point. My analogy operates at a higher level of generality. I didn’t use that analogy as a specific model for penal substitution. Rather, I used that analogy to illustrate the broader principle of transmissible moral properties. The vicarious principle. In this case, a transmissible obligation. Penal substitution or vicarious atonement would be a special case of that broader principle. Try to follow the argument.

steve said...

"I am assuming the Christian view of morality in my critique. The Bible says that God is upright and that all of his ways are just. (Deut. 32:4). The Bible also says that it is wrong to punish the righteous along with the sinner (Gen. 18:25; Eze. 18:20)."

i) Your appeal to Gen 18:25 is equivocal. God is not the speaker. That's a quote from Abraham.

ii) Your appeal to Ezk 18:20 is typical Arminian spooftexting. Have you bothered to read Daniel Block on that passage?

steve said...

“If you try to separate the guilt from the act and apply the guilt to someone who did not commit the act, then you are guilty of a non-sequitur.”

That’s a category mistake. A non sequitur is a logical fallacy, involving an invalid inference.

However, the relation between action and guilt isn’t like a logical syllogism. Rather, that’s a metaphysical relation of some sort. Likewise, cause-and-effect relations don’t occupy the same domain as premise/conclusion relations.

“So if I violate the law, who is guilty? I am. Could you make someone else guilty of my violation?”

That doesn’t follow. A superior officer can be held accountable for the actions of his subordinates–even if he was ignorant of their actions, much less an active participant.

What makes a party legally culpable is simply a matter of how the law assigns guilt.

“You still have not explained how someone can be held guilty for the crime of another.”

Actually, I have–repeatedly. You simply lack the intellectual aptitude to grasp the explanation.

“You must not have read Crisp's article because his thesis is that unless there is a hell, then God's justice is never demonstrated. Thus, the death of Jesus is not a just act, that is why he calls it "undeserved." If someone receives punishment that they don't deserve, that is injustice.”

Are you just too dense to register an explanation, even after it’s been repeatedly explained to you?

There are situations in which it is morally licit for one party to permit another party to do something morally illicit. Do you need some concrete illustrations? Is that your problem? I can try to help you out if you need me to walk you through the process.

“You gave an analogy in which someone is treated as if they didn't sin because someone else mediated on their behalf but that in no way illustrates how someone can bear the guilt for something they did not do. You say that the analogy illustrates “the broader principle of transmissible moral properties.” but it doesn't. There is no transfer of moral properties in your illustration. The guilty person is released from punishment because of the intercessession of the innocent person. The guilt of the guilty person is not transferred to the innocent nor is the innocence of the innocent party transferred to the guilty. You need to come up with an analogy that actually illustrates what you are trying to prove.”

You evince a completely superficial grasp of the issues. It is not simply a question of Justin interceding on behalf of Jim. Rather, it’s also a question of what qualifies him to play the role of intercessor. Because Justin is John’s friend, John has certain obligations to Justin.

And on that basis, John will do something for the undeserving Jim for the sake of the deserving Justin. John doesn’t owe it to Jim, but because he owes it to Justin, John is obliged to treat Jim, the guilty party, as if Jim were Justin, the innocent party. So, yes, that illustrates the transitivity of moral properties.

“You object to my use of Gen. 18:25 because it comes from Abraham's mouth not God's. Are you saying that the truth expressed in Gen. 18:25 is not valid; it doesn't accurately reflect the nature of your God?”

i) You used that as leverage with Christians, as if anything the Bible says is true merely because you can find it said in Scripture. But while Scripture is a true record of what people say, not everything people are recorded to have said is true.

Therefore, the truth of Abraham’s statement wouldn’t follow from the bare fact that the narrator of Genesis recorded that statement. For that you need an independent argument.

ii) For that matter, Abraham’s experience illustrates the vicarious principle in the sacrificial animal that takes the place of Isaac.

“You also apparently object to Eze. 18:20 as representing divine truth although you don't explain why.”

Try not to be quite so dim. Did I say Ezk 18:20 was false? No. I said your interpretation of Ezk 18:20 was false.

“And you do not comment on Deut. 32:4 at all. Do you believe that your God is just and upright in all that he does? Do you believe that punishing a person for what he did not do is just?”

I don’t comment on Deut 32:4 because that was hardly meant to contravene the vicarious principle. After all, much of the Mosaic cultus is based on the vicarious principle. Your isolated prooftexting is acontextual.

steve said...
According to Ken, "The notion that it is wrong to punish an innocent person is a basic intuition that all men possess and it seems to be present in man from infancy. I believe the notion is present in man due to the way our brains have evolved..."

But, of course, that's entirely inadequate to validate the intuition. At best, that would only account for the origin of the intuition. But that doesn't begin to show how the intuition is true.

Indeed, if this moral intuition is simply the byproduct of naturalistic evolution, then it's an illusion. Natural selection has tricked us into believing that, but it doesn't correspond to any objective moral facts.

steve said...
Ken has also said, "I believe that the idea of Jesus Christ dying for man’s sin has its origin in the ancient concept of offering human sacrifices to a deity. We know human sacrifice was common in ancient times."

But if so, then this directly contradicts his appeal to a universal moral intuition against the vicarious principle.

steve said...

“You think that guilt can be transferred without the demerit which caused the guilt and I don't.”

Demerit doesn’t cause guilt. Sin causes guilt. Or law-breaking. Guilt and demerit are synonymous.

“As far as the intitution that it is wrong to punish an innocent person being invalidated by the practice of human sacrifice, here is the answer. Many people will violate their moral intuitions if they are told by a superior, especially what they believe to be a deity, to do so.”

i) That’s a classic example of someone who adjusts the evidence to accommodate his theory, rather than adjusting his theory to accommodate the evidence.

You postulate a universal moral intuition. Then, in the face of counterevidence, you postulate a motive to make the counterevidence fit your original postulate.

But unless you held a séance to interview the individuals in question, you’re in no position to say they were only acting under orders, in violation of their conscience.

Where’s your evidence that all of them were both acting under orders and violating their conscience? Do you have cuneiform polling data from the ANE?

ii) Moreover, your ad hoc explanation only pushes the question back a step: if subordinates only did it because their superiors made them, then why did their superiors issue the orders in the first place? Were their superiors violating their own conscience? Since you don’t believe a real deity told them to do it, what’s your explanation? Why did they believe that was a divine injunction?

iv) Finally, your entire objection is gutted by your evolutionary ethics. Even if natural selection conditioned us to entertain these moral intuitions, natural selection is amoral. Therefore, natural selection can’t provide the moral warrant for these moral intuitions. The product of an amoral process is an amoral product. So you utterly failed to ground the moral intuition which you rely on to attack penal substitution.


  1. I feel sorry for apostate atheists like Ken Pulliam, John Loftus, Dan Barker, et al.

    I hope they stop eating with the pigs, repent, and come home to the Father.

    If not, they'll be eating with the pigs for a long time.

  2. It's like riding a merry-go-round. I don't know how you do it for so long without getting sick.

  3. Put simply, there is a difference between justice and fairness. Christ's death satisfied God's justice, but it wasn't fair - that's called grace, and that's good news for us.

  4. Dear Steve,

    I've been following Pulliam's PST posts and Triablogue for the past several months and have yet to see a sustained interaction between the two of you on this issue at either site. Where does all this come from?

  5. 1. To begin with, he's a generic apostate, rehashing generic objections to the Christian faith. So there's no reason for me to invite or initiate a sustained tête-à-tête with him. He's interchangeable with so many other apostates.

    2. It came about because he initiated the rumpus. He used of post of mine as a pretext to debate something which was ancillary to the point of the post.

  6. Dear Patrick,

    Thanks for the reference! Skipped the comments section on that post. :{

  7. In dealing with how the sin can be imputed to Christ I go along with the doctrine of union with Christ. In our mystical union with Christ we become one with Christ. Our sins are imputed to Him and His righteousness is imputed to us. This imputation is extrinsic. It's like wearing a robe. That's not to say we don't change though but the change is intrinsic. The robe of righteousness is extrinsic. Christ doesn't change intrinsically. He remains righteous as our sins are imputed to Him and punished.

  8. I think its interesting how Ken Pulliam is essentially making the same argument the Muslims make: How can God punish an innocent third party for the sins of the guilty?

    I answered this in brief yesterday in my on-campus interactions with a few Muslims. They seemed to get it better than Mr. Pulliam does.

  9. Dear Steve,

    I went back and read the entire comments section on your Oliver Crisp post. While the comments on both sides were engaging, I have to agree with you that Ken jumped on an ancillary point.

    More fundamentally, I find the entire scheme of eternal torture as a just punishment for sin unbelievable. Crisp attempts to defend this elsewhere, I presume? I know this objection is even more generic than Pulliam's objection to the PST. What's worse, I'm a former PCA pastor -- another generic apostate.

    If you're looking for something non-generic, I can shamelessly plug inflammatory material on my own blog. I did a series of posts on Esther here, here, and here, that may actually be more than just interchangeable generic apostate rehash (somebody else may have published something similar in a commentary, journal article or monograph, but since I haven't had regular access to a theological library in recent years I haven't been able to confirm/disconfirm it).

    Not expecting a reply or a glance at the material linked above. Just in case someone on your team happens to at some point to have time/interest.


    "More fundamentally, I find the entire scheme of eternal torture as a just punishment for sin unbelievable."

    Since I've often expounded and defended the Biblical doctrine of hell, as I understand it, that leaves me underwhelmed.

  11. I think the biggest problem is that most people have not studied how the Bible uses the term "atonement," which isn't how Penal Substitution thinks it's used as this link shows.