Saturday, May 26, 2012

Atonement and Islam

I’ve been asked to comment on this post:

P.S As I have publicly stated before, much thanks is due to the late Dr. Ken Pulliam, for his research on this topic assisted me very much.

Ken and I got into a lengthy, impromptu debate over penal substitution. For that reason, I’m going to skip some of Zawadi’s objections, since I’ve gone over the same ground in Appendix 5 of the following work:

Argument no. 1: It is Unjust, Hence Compromising God’s Holy Attribute of Justice
Both Islam in Surah 91:8 and Christianity in Romans 2:14-15 teach that human beings are naturally inspired with certain moral intuitions.

There are many problems with that premise:

i) Scholars like Jewett, Cranfield, Wright, Gathercole, and Zahn think this has reference to Christian gentiles rather than human beings generally. And in that respect, it would also have reference to special revelation (i.e. the new covenant) rather than general revelation.

ii) Even if we grant Zawadi’s interpretation, Paul himself teaches penal substitution. Therefore, it’s counterproductive to cite Rom 2:14-15 as an argument against penal substitution.

iii) Likewise, even if we grant Zawadi’s interpretation, that’s a double-edged sword:

a) On the one hand, Islam has numerous taboos which many non-Muslims don’t find intuitively wrong. Islam forbids alcohol, but many non-Muslims don’t regard alcoholic consumption as intuitively wrong. Muslims regard dogs as ritually impure. Many non-Muslims don’t. Muslims regard pork as ritually impure. Many non-Muslims don’t.

From what I’ve read, Islam frowns on communal showers in locker rooms. But many non-Muslims don’t find that intuitively wrong.

Muslims might try to draw a parallel with ritual purity in the OT. However, cultic holiness wasn’t based on what’s intrinsically or intuitively wrong.

b) On the other hand, Muslims also have numerous practices which many non-Muslims find intuitively wrong, viz., jihad, child marriage, honor-killings, female genital mutilation, a sexual double standard for men and women.

c) Hence, Muslims defend whatever their religion commends or condemns. Moral intuition is irrelevant. If the Koran endorsed penal substitution, Zawadi would defend penal substitution.

iv) Many cultures practice vicarious sacrifice. Why don't they find that intuitively immoral?

Zawadi can't appeal to the noetic affects of sin, for Islam doesn't have original sin. 

Secondly, it is true that God is not judged by laws but that doesn’t mean that He isn’t necessarily good by nature. If he wasn’t then God would be able to turn all good into evil and if He could go that far then why not simply forgive all sin and hold no one accountable? Punishing the guilty and sparing the innocent is more than just a law, it’s a moral principle.

From what I’ve read, orthodox (i.e. Asharite) Islamic theology is voluntaristic.

For al-Ash'ari, divine justice is a matter of faith. We know the difference between good and evil solely because of God's revelation, and not by the exercise of our own reason. God makes the rules and whatever he decrees is just, yet God himself is under no obligation: if he wished, he could punish the righteous and admit the wicked to paradise (see Voluntarism).

Argument no. 2: The Atonement Invalidates The True Concept of Forgiveness
What does forgiveness mean? We read the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-15… In Luke 7:36-50 Jesus gives an example of true forgiveness.

i) These passages illustrate certain aspects of Biblical forgiveness but they are not exhaustive.

ii) Mt 20:28 teaches penal substitution.

If someone owes you a thousand dollars and you wanted to “forgive this debt” that would mean that you would have to forgo the thousand dollars and absorb your losses. If Kevin owes you a thousand dollars and then you tell Kevin you don’t have to pay it anymore and that John could pay it instead, that doesn’t mean that you have truly forgiven Kevin’s debt. Kevin’s debt is still there even though it’s not Kevin paying it anymore. The only way for you to TRULY forgive Kevin’s debt is for you to absorb your losses. Similarly, the only way for God to TRULY forgive us our debt is to let go of the debt all together. Now we don’t say that God “absorbs His losses” because God is independent of all creatures and has no “losses”, but the logic is the same in that God would have to forgo the debt all together in order to TRULY forgive us our debts. However, in Christianity we don’t see that because Jesus takes the debt and pays it.
True forgiveness is a virtuous act of letting go of a wrong without exacting any form of payment or punishment in return. But Christianity teaches that Jesus bore the punishment of sinners on the cross fully paying off the debt. In that case there is nothing to forgive. Yes, only those who accept what Jesus has done for them will receive the benefits of his alleged sacrificial death for Christianity does not teach universalism, but in REALITY their debt to God wasn’t TRULY forgiven.

i) To begin with, Zawadi’s definition of forgiveness simply begs the question.

ii) In addition, his analysis is simplistic and confused. In divine forgiveness, there are three parties to the transaction, not two: God, the Redeemer, and the sinner. God is not simultaneously forgiving and punishing the same person. Rather, God punishes the Redeemer, but forgives the sinner.

Argument no. 3: Jesus’ Vicarious Death Causes Problems For The Trinity (which is supposedly a description of God’s Holy Nature)
Romans 6:23 states that the wages of sin is death. Death here referring to a spiritual death. A spiritual death (unlike a physical death which is a separation of the soul from the body) entails the soul being separate from the presence of God. as one could see in Genesis 2:17 where God said that Adam would “surely die” for eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Life.
Now most mainstream Christians are of the view that all the three persons in the Godhead and not only the Father required propitiation (that is they required to be satisfied from the problem of sin) because if it was only the Father then the Son and Holy Spirit wouldn’t be as Holy as the Father, which would be problematic.
Now since all three persons required propitiation and since the wages of sin is spiritual death, how exactly did Jesus propitiate himself? He is supposed to be both the subject and object of propitiation. How does one satisfy his own wrath by punishing himself? Also, if Jesus is God and he must spiritually die and become separated from God, how does he become separated from himself? Despite having two separate natures he is still one person according to orthodox and mainstream Christianity. So how did he separate from himself? It appears that Christians say that he was separated from God the Father and that would count as a spiritual death. I’ll go with that idea for the sake of argument.
John Calvin and other reformed scholars such as Charles Hodge, John MacArthur, RC Sproul, John Piper and others insist that mere corporeal death wouldn’t have been sufficient, but that Jesus during his hours on the cross must have truly been separate from God the Father and that his soul endured such trauma.
But if Jesus were truly separate from God the Father for those few hours then doesn’t that mean that there was a temporary break and disconnect in the Trinity? Didn’t that intercommunion in the Godhead temporarily stop? Isn’t that a change in God, which Malachi 3:6 says cannot happen since God does not change?

i) Zawadi is getting carried away with the word “separation.” That’s popular usage. Preachers often employ graphic, concrete language. This is just a spatial metaphor. Poetic. It doesn’t mean the Father and the Son were literally or metaphysically separated.

ii) Due to the Incarnation, Jesus can be both the subject and the object of propitiation.

iii) Jesus didn’t die “spiritually.” He died physically.

Also, doesn’t Jesus dying and suffering for us mean that he is more worthy of honor and praise than the Father who only sent him? Does the commander who sends his soldier to die in a mission that saved the lives of millions deserve and get the same level of honor as the soldier sent to die? Surely not! The one who does the dirty work is at a much higher level in terms of praise and honour than the one who sent him to do the dirty work. Surely the Son feels a bit closer to us than the Father while the Father feels a bit more transcendent than the Son? So COULD (not should, but COULD) we honestly we love the Father AS MUCH as the son? Doesn’t the atonement raise problematic concerns for God’s supposedly Holy Triune nature?

This objection is overly anthropomorphic. Too Miltonian (i.e. Paradise Lost).

It’s not like Zeus sending Apollo on a grueling mission, where Zeus is up on Mt. Olympus, eating ambrosia, while Apollo is sweating it out down below.

In the communication of attributes, what is true of each nature can be attributed to the person, not to the other nature.

God doesn’t suffer. The Son qua Son doesn’t suffer:


  1. Brother Steph, excellent post. I will be linking to it in my reply to Zawadi's deceptions, distortions and his other nonsense. Just one typo. Matthew 20:20 should be 20:28

  2. Sahih Muslim 6665—Abu Musa reported that Allah's Messenger said: When it will be the Day of Resurrection Allah would deliver to every Muslim a Jew or a Christian and say: That is your rescue from Hell-Fire.

    Sahih Muslim 6666—Allah’s Apostle said: No Muslim would die but Allah would admit in his stead a Jew or a Christian in Hell-Fire.

    Sahih Muslim 6668—Allah’s Messenger [said]: There would come people amongst the Muslims on the Day of Resurrection with as heavy sins as a mountain, and Allah would forgive them and He would place in their stead the Jews and the Christians.

    110 Hadith Qudsi—Allah’s Messenger said: On the Day of Resurrection, my Ummah (nation) will be gathered into three groups. One sort will enter Paradise without rendering an account (of their deeds). Another sort will be reckoned an easy account and admitted into Paradise. Yet another sort will come bearing on their backs heaps of sins like great mountains. Allah will ask the angels though He knows best about them: Who are these people? They will reply: They are humble slaves of yours. He will say: Unload the sins from them and put the same over the Jews and Christians: then let the humble slaves get into Paradise by virtue of My Mercy.

    1. Unlike Allah, fortunately, there was a Jew and a Christian who bore on his back the load of sins and put himself in the stead of those Muslims who would repent from their sins and trust in him as their Lord and Savior.

  3. Couple of follow-up questions, if you don’t mind:

    Steve wrote, “Jesus didn’t die ‘spiritually.’ He died physically.”

    Are the wages of sin in Romans 6:23 only physical death, or is some other type of death involved? Does Gen. 2:17 refer only to physical death?

    Steve wrote, “In divine forgiveness, there are three parties to the transaction, not two: God, the Redeemer, and the sinner. God is not simultaneously forgiving and punishing the same person. Rather, God punishes the Redeemer, but forgives the sinner.”

    Are we commanded to forgive unbelievers? If so, who plays the role of redeemer?

  4. atb

    "Are the wages of sin in Romans 6:23 only physical death, or is some other type of death involved?"

    "Death" in Rom 6:23 is a metaphor for damnation. Eternal or eschatological "death," in contrast to eternal life. Everlasting punishment.

    "Does Gen. 2:17 refer only to physical death?"

    IMO, that's all it refers to.

    "Spiritual death" is a metaphor. Original sin results in:

    i) Guilt

    ii) Corruption

    iii) Physical death

    iv) Bondage to the devil.

    The Redeemer doesn't have to "die spiritually" to atone for sin. That's getting carried away with metaphors.

    Rather, we're dealing with the significance of his physical death, which is tied to his mission and person.

    "Are we commanded to forgive unbelievers? If so, who plays the role of redeemer?"

    i) I don't think Scripture teaches unconditional forgiveness.

    ii) Some unbelievers are redeemed. They will come to the faith.

    iii) As I pointed out, it's fallacious to infer that human forgiveness must have the same basis as divine forgiveness. We are not the Judge of the living and the dead. It's not up to us to exact eschatological justice.

  5. Steve wrote, “i) I don't think Scripture teaches unconditional forgiveness.”

    What are the conditions of human forgiveness versus the conditions of divine forgiveness?

    Are the conditions on which we offer forgiveness to other believers different than the conditions on which we offer forgiveness to unbelievers?