Does Paul Say That God Punished Jesus? A Second Look

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Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin has put out another article which seeks to undermine the doctrine of Penal Substitution. In this article, he opens up with what he believes is a summary of the doctrine – “..that the Father ‘poured out his wrath’ on Christ as He hung on the cross”.  As my previous article responding to Akin made clear, there is a good way to hold to Penal Substitution, and I don’t think it has been interacted with in in Akin’s critiques. In this latest one, Akin focuses on the writings of St. Paul, particularly 2 Cor 5:21, Gal 3:13, and Romans 8:3-4. I recommend any to read it fully, and then compare what Akin has to say about these passages versus St. John Chrysostom and St. Thomas Aquinas. Chrysostom was born in Antioch (349 AD) to Greek parents, and grew to be a great orator (aka the Golden-Tongue) and expositor of Sacred Scripture. In fact, there are good grounds to believe that St. Thomas Aquinas said he would rather have St. Chrysostom’s commentary on St. Matthew than have the riches that would come from selling the city of Paris to the King of France. So here, the theologians of theologians, the Angelic Doctor himself, gives praise to the expository genius of this great 4th-century Saint from Antioch. And then following this, I will give Aquinas’ commentary on the Epistle to the Galatian churches.

As you’ve read by now (I hope), Akin attempts to interprets the Pauline passages in a very non-penal substituionary manner. I will let his own explanations suffice to describe. I will only be dealing with 2 Cor 5:21 and Gal 3:13, since I agree with his interpretation of Rom 8:3-4. And my contribution here will actually not be to exegete these passages myself, but to share the interpretations of two Scriptural giants of Catholic history. which are diametrically opposed to what Akin deduced from these passages.

St. John Chrysostom on 2 Cor 5:21

“What then is this? ‘Him that knew no sin‘, he says, Him that was righteousness itself , ‘He made sin‘, that is suffered as a sinner to be condemned, as one cursed to die. ‘For cursed is he that hangs on a tree‘.  For to die thus was far greater than to die; and this he also elsewhere implying, says, ‘becoming obedient unto death, yea the death of the cross‘. For this thing carried with it not only punishment, but also disgrace….Let us therefore not fear hell, but offending God; for it is more grievous than that when He turns away in wrath: this is worse than all, this heavier than all. And that you may learn what a thing it is, consider this which I say. If one that was himself a king, beholding a robber and malefactor under punishment, gave his well-beloved son, his only-begotten and true, to be slain; and transferred the death and the guilt as well, from him to his son, (who was himself of no such character,) that he might both save the condemned man and clear him from his evil reputation ; and then if, having subsequently promoted him to great dignity, he had yet, after thus saving him and advancing him to that glory unspeakable, been outraged by the person that had received such treatment: would not that man, if he had any sense, have chosen ten thousand deaths rather than appear guilty of so great ingratitude?”

St. Thomas Aquinas on Galatians 3:13

“ is explained with respect to the evil of punishment. For Christ freed us from punishment by enduring our punishment and our death which came upon us from the very curse of sin. Therefore, inasmuch as He endured this curse of sin by dying for us, He is said to have been made a curse for us. This is similar to what is said in Romans (8:3): “God sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and of sin,” i.e., of mortal sin; “Him who knew no sin,” namely, Christ, Who committed no sin, God (namely, the Father) “had made sin for us,” i.e., made Him suffer the punishment of sin, when, namely, He was offered for our sins ….He is saying, therefore: Truly was He made a curse for us, because the death of the cross which He endured is tantamount to a curse—thus explaining the evil of guilt, although it was only in the minds of the Jews—because it is written: Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree. But with respect to the evil of punishment, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree is explained thus: The punishment itself is a curse, namely, that He should die in this way. Explained in this way, He was truly cursed by God, because God decreed that He endure this punishment in order to set us free.

7 thoughts on “Does Paul Say That God Punished Jesus? A Second Look

  1. Erick,

    As brilliant a theologian that St. Thomas Aquinas was, I don’t think we should base our theology on his insightful opinion unless it’s clearly taught by the magisterium. Has the magisterium ever taught that his physical death counted as a penal substitute?

    Moreover, as you know, sin leads to both physical and spiritual death. So in order for Christ to pay the penalty for sin, he needed not only to undergo physical death but also spiritual death (i.e. hell). Otherwise, Christ physical death would not have covered the full penalty of sin. This is why penal substitution is problematic.

  2. Sorry but the punishment Christ endured was death, not wrath. This is precisely why Catholcism and the Fathers do not believe in penal substitution in the sense Protestants do. The Orthodox are quite correct in their response.

    • All I did was cite St. John Chrysostom and St. Thomas Aquinas. The former has his name as the progenitor of the Byzantine liturgical form. That’s as Eastern Orthodox as you can get.

      • Yes Erick, and my point exactly is none of these quotes refer to “wrath” or any other specific punishments which is taught under Penal Substitutionary Atonement. Specifically the punishment is related to death and suffering. Even St. Aquinas’ quote is saying the exact same thing. Precisely my point!

      • Neither of these saints teach anything opposite to what I have said. You misunderstand *punishments* to somehow be identical to wrath. This is not the case, and a quick glance through St. Chrysostom shall find this out. Nothing remotely penal substitutionary is here – not unless you wish to mean that suffering and death (which were the punishments for original sin) mean Christ facing God’s wrath, which is an appalling heresy.

  3. Because if Christ paid for our sins as penal substitution holds, he must have also suffered the pain of hell (separation from God) this is comdemnable heresy. No where do the Fathers teach this idea of salvation. I’m not saying you have to believe this, I’m saying this logically leads to this.

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