I. Howard Marshall on penal substitution

Among contemporary evangelical (including trinitarian) theologians, much (often heated) discussion continues concerning whether or not the idea of "penal substitution" is a valid way to characterize the atonement. Some sweep it aside as hopelessly flawed. Others assert its validity even if they object to certain ideas attached to its use.

An influential theologian in the second camp is I. Howard Marshall (at left), who argues for penal substitution, but against certain biblically indefensible ideas that have come to be attached to the concept.

In "The Theology of the Atonement" (click here to download), Marshall does a good job of surveying the issue from the perspectives of the Bible and contemporary theological literature. He places the issue in a trinitarian context without sweeping it aside. See what you think of his viewpoints. I think it would have been helpful if he had said more about the incarnation (Jesus' vicarious humanity), and the NT metaphor of adoption (our inclusion with Jesus).


Anonymous said…
Hi there,

Thank you for sharing this paper. It covers a number of fascinating subjects and is, in my opinion, worthy of further study on my part.

With this paper in mind, I make this observation about what is often used as the dividing point of the Biblical narrative. This dividing point is so often presented as between the Old Testament on one side and the New Testament on the other side. Thus, we end up with reasoning that goes something like this, “The Old Testament says,…, while the New Testament says,…”

However, I suggest that this Old Testament/New Testament division is not the one used in the Biblical narrative. Instead, the dividing point (or points) is actually covenant based. Thus, for addressing theological issues, I feel a clearer picture of the issues at hand would be better painted by focusing on what the two Covenants express, not on what the two Testaments express.

For instance, when it comes to wrath, the Old “law” Covenant, which Christ lived and died under 2000 years ago, and which ramifications of, the Synoptic Gospels focus on, demands wrath, as clarified by Paul as:

Gal 3:10-13--All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith." The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." (NIV)

In contrast, the New “belief” Covenant, which came into being at the cross and which John, Paul, etc. focus on, has no wrath for believers, as in:

Rom 4:14-15--For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. (NIV)

What I am saying is that identifying and using Covenants rather than Testaments serves a clarifying purpose in the discussion of penal substitution and related matters for believers in their view of unbelievers, Jesus Christ, and the human experience with God.

The best to you always!

J. Richard Parker
Ted Johnston said…
Perhaps another way to say the same thing is to note that the Christ event is the "fulcrum" of all history to which all of God's covenants point and in which they find their fulfillment. In that way we see both a continuity and a discontinuity between the covenants.