Can Legal Philosophy Help Us Make Sense of Penal Substitution? (TGC Canada)

CWoznicki Think Out Loud

“Penal substitution is more than unjust, it is by definition impossible!”

This line of thought represents an important objection leveled against penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) by some philosophers of religion. The key to this objection lies in a widely held definition of punishment. According to a number of philosophers of law, like Joel Feinberg and Mark Murphy, punishment has four necessary conditions:

  1. Punishment is hard treatment.
  2. Punishment is imposed by an authority who may legitimately impose hard treatment.
  3. Punishment is for a failure to conform to some standard.
  4. Punishment expresses condemnation of the wrongdoer.[1]

These objectors to PSA home in on the fourth condition, arguing that an authority figure cannot truly express condemnation of someone who has done nothing wrong, therefore punishment cannot be transferred. This objection is problematic for believers in PSA because, by definition, PSA is the transferring of our rightly deserved punishment onto Christ who is…

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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