Penal-Substitution anyone?

October 12, 2006    By: Jacob J @ 11:47 pm   Category: Atonement & Soteriology,Theology

In the previous thread, Matt started up a defense of the penal-substitution theory, so I am putting up this post as a place to discuss it in more detail.

The central idea of this theory is that every sin must be punished due to the unyielding demands of justice. Sin is a violation of the law and justice is the enforcer of the law. God cannot simply forgive us of our sins without punishment because to do so would violate the law of justice, and as we all know, “the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God” (Alma 42:13).

The fundamental problem with the penal-substitution theory is that is says justice can be satisfied by an injustice. No one will quarrel with the idea that sinners deserve punishment. However, I can think of nothing more inherently unjust than punishing someone who is innocent for something they didn’t do. But this, of course, is exactly what the penal-substitution theory says the atonement is about.

It is important to remember that the injustice I am referring to is not the unfairness to Christ. By all accounts Jesus volunteered to be our Savior, which accounts for the unfairness to him. All the same, it is still unjust to punish an innocent person for what they did not do. They may volunteer to be punished, but such punishment could never have been demanded by justice. Furthermore, the whole arrangement being proposed is unjust. Not only is it unjust to punish an innocent person, it is also unjust to forgive a guilty person based on the suffering of someone else. The idea that guilt can be transferred from one person to another does violence to our notion of justice. If the problem of sin is that justice must be satisfied, the penal-substitution theory has an odd approach because everything it proposes as a solution runs directly counter to our notion of justice.

The Debt Analogy

Now, 400 years before the penal-substitution theory was being formulated, Anselm had come up with a brilliant idea of framing the atonement in terms of a debt. His idea is often used in conjunction with penal-substitution by using debt as an analogy for the demands of justice. The idea is to mitigate against the accusations of injustice. Whereas punishing someone for another person’s sins seems unjust, there is nothing unjust about one person paying another person’s debt. Mormons are familiar with this approach from the popular parable “The Mediator.”

The Mediator

The parable is the story of a youth who takes on a debt that he is eventually unable to repay. When the time has expired and the debt comes due, he comes before the creditor, who demands payment. Because the boy is unable to pay the debt, he begs for mercy. The creditor, on the other hand, demands justice-he wants to be paid. It appears the mercy and justice cannot both be served. If mercy is shown, the creditor will get no justice and he will be out the money. On the other hand, if justice prevails, then there is no mercy. The impasse is resolved when a wealthy friend of the boy has pity on his situation and voluntarily pays the debt. Commentary at the end explains that this is how mercy can be reconciled with justice. The boy got mercy and the creditor got justice because of a third party who was willing and able to pay the debt.

At first glance, the parable seems to do pretty well. It explains why God cannot simply forgive by pointing to the creditor who would not get the money he was rightly owed. It does not strike us as unjust because in a financial arrangement there is no injustice in one person paying another person’s debt. But this is where we can detect the sleight of hand. The debt analogy is just that, an analogy. As such, it represents things in the actual world. Both solutions become problematic when we try to map the analogy back to the real world. As we have already discussed, the debt is supposed to represent the punishment required for sin, and while debts can be paid justly by another, punishment cannot.

Who is the Creditor?

The second problem is that there seems to be no real-life analog to the creditor. It does not work to make Satan the creditor because he has no legitimate claim over humankind when they sin.

It does not work to make God the creditor for a few reasons. First, it makes no sense that God would require something of us (the debt) which we were not capable of paying. Second, it makes no sense that for payment of that debt he would accept the suffering of his only obedient Son. Third, our answer becomes circular. First we asked why God could not simply forgive. It makes no sense to turn around and answer that it is because God won’t allow it. The whole point was to explain why not so this begs the question. Forth, it also destroys the notion of forgiveness. Forgiveness of a debt is when you don’t require payment. Saying that God only forgives the debt when he is fully paid is the same as saying God does not forgive.

It makes no sense to say that justice is the creditor because now justice is back in the position of demanding an injustice.

So, there you have it. While I haven’t addressed all of the problems with the penal-substitution theory, this is a good start. I’m sure we’ll address several more before we’re done arguing about it.


  1. Nice post Jacob. I agree. Debt analogies or tales of big Jim “taking our lickin'” notwithstanding, penal-substition theories of atonement fall apart under scrutiny.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 13, 2006 @ 12:09 am

  2. I haven’t read all of this yet, but inbtend to today, as well as your dialogue article (and hopefully I’ll finish Potter’s article as well), but I did want to say that I wasn’t really intending a defense of the Penal-Substitution Theory so much as an observation that Potter’s method of “debunking” it was extremely lacking. I do expect to be much more impressed by your work, as I have been very impressed by it up to this point.

    Anyway, if it takes me a while, I apologize, but I am a slow reader, and It looks like it’s going to be a pretty busy day.

    Comment by Matt Witten — October 13, 2006 @ 6:47 am

  3. Matt,

    Sorry for the mischaracterization, I got carried away looking for a pithy opening. Thanks for the compliment, and don’t worry if it takes a bit to get caught up on all the “assigned reading.”

    Comment by Jacob — October 13, 2006 @ 8:23 am

  4. However intellectually unappealing the penal-substitution theory is, I think you have to deal with the fact that it is taught in the Book of Mormon. Amulek, at least, seemed to believe it. Your objection is virtually identical to one that he anticipated. You say:

    The fundamental problem with the penal-substitution theory is that is says justice can be satisfied by an injustice. No one will quarrel with the idea that sinners deserve punishment. However, I can think of nothing more inherently unjust than punishing someone who is innocent for something they didn’t do. But this, of course, is exactly what the penal-substitution theory says the atonement is about.

    Amulek says (in Alma 34)

    11 Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another. Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay.
    12 But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered;

    Amulek’s solution is to invoke the infiniteness of the atonement (in the rest of verse 12):

    therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world.

    In other words, only an infinite atonement can bridge the legal and moral gap between person A’s sin and person B’s punishment. This is handwaving, to be sure. But it occurs in our scripture and must therefore be dealt with.

    The second problem is that there seems to be no real-life analog to the creditor.

    I view the creditor as the entity that enforces the notion that if justice were violated, God would cease to be God.

    Comment by Last Lemming — October 13, 2006 @ 9:04 am

  5. Last Lemming,

    I’d love to discuss Alma 34 in more detail here because I emphatically disagree that Amulek is arguing for penal-substitution. Before I try again here, let me direct you to my response to this question when it came up on the Dialogue online letters to the editor. See comments #2 and #3.

    As to “the entity that enforces justice,” is there a name for this entity? Justice enforces the law, what enforces justice? The two options seem to be that God is the enforcer (which leads to the problems I discussed in the post) or that “the universe” is the enforcer, which quickly leads to the same problems (it doesn’t really help anything to say that the universe demands an injustice in order to satisfy justice).

    Comment by Jacob — October 13, 2006 @ 9:21 am

  6. Very nice post. I appreciate you explaining this stuff in fairly plain straight forward words. It helps simple folk like me.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — October 13, 2006 @ 11:40 am

  7. This is a great post–I love how Jacob clearly explains theology, making it accessible to so many of us. I’m off to the Counterpoint Conference in Salt Lake, but I can’t wait to get back and see what people have to say about this.

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — October 13, 2006 @ 1:31 pm

  8. Eric, Biv,

    Wow, no one has ever described my writing as “straight forward” or “accessible,” I am flattered. I better forward the link to my sister, who is a real writer. Her longsuffering tutelage over many years must be paying dividends.

    Comment by Jacob — October 13, 2006 @ 2:01 pm

  9. I haven’t read your Dialogue article and I don’t have time right now to plow through all the old threads, but my reaction to the online letters is that I don’t find your argument convincing. It is explicit in Amulek’s argument that the sins of the world must be “sufficed” for. Furthermore, the Nephite law, which he deems to be just, demands punishment. It strikes me as wishful thinking then that something other than punishment would “suffice” in Amulek’s scenario.

    I’m not thrilled with using infiniteness to explain the unexplainable, but I suspect that its the best either Amulek or I could do with our finite understandings.

    Comment by Last Lemming — October 13, 2006 @ 2:11 pm

  10. I finished Potter but am only on page three of your piece. I have to go take a Quantitative analysis test, so may not get to this tonight. Maybe tomorrow or sunday I can finish it. Thanks for the patience.

    Comment by Matt Witten — October 13, 2006 @ 2:12 pm

  11. Last Lemming,

    It is explicit in Amulek’s argument that the sins of the world must be “sufficed” for.

    The Nephite law, which he deems to be just, demands that punishment cannot be transferred. This is a direct denial of the principle of penal-substitution. Notice:

    11 Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another. Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay.
    12 But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered; therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world.

    The part in italics is saying rather explicitely that one person can’t suffer for another person’s sins. From this he concludes that there must be an “infinite atonement.” Now, the connection between his statement and his conclusion is not at all clear, but the plain reading of these verses is that the injustice of penal-substitution is the reason an infinite atonement was necessary. I don’t see that as the ringing endorsement of penal-substitution that you do.

    Comment by Jacob — October 13, 2006 @ 2:35 pm

  12. LL,

    I think one problem might be defining the word atonement. Many people seem to think it is synonymous with “payment” or even “punishment” in these Amulek verses. But if the word atonement actually refers to a great plan to make us at one with God (and is not a simple synonym for “payment”) then verses 11-12 are denying the penal-substitution notion and claiming another “infinite” way of making us at one with God.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 13, 2006 @ 2:59 pm

  13. Geoff just said pretty much what I was thinking. The atonement is much more than just payment. I would look at it as a higher law that allows for justice to be satisfied. Penal substitution sounds to me like justice is only satisfied by an eye or an eye, no matter who’s eye … so everyone ends up blind. Christ provides a better way, how that works I don’t exactly understand…that to me is part of the miracle of the atonement.

    Comment by don — October 13, 2006 @ 6:30 pm

  14. I was thinking about Last Lemming’s comment some more and I thought it might be worth saying some more about Alma 34. I know that a lot of people are convinced that Amulek is teaching penal-substitution. When you’ve read a certain text in the same way for a long time, it can be hard to break out of the way you’ve been reading it to see other possibilities. Hopefully this comment will help someone do that.

    The central difficulty in Alma 34 is found in verses 11and 12 (quoted above in #11). Some things are clear, others are not. One thing that Amulek says clearly is that penal-substitution is unjust if the substitution is an animal or a man. The other thing he says clearly is that the injustice of penal-substitution (with animals and humans) is what requires an infinite atonement. The unclear part is how these two ideas go together. The traditional interpretation is that although penal-substitution is unjust when the substitution is an animal or a man, it is (for some reason) the embodiment of justice if the substitution is a God. Now, we should all be able to agree that if this is what the text means, the logic is anything but obvious. Why would it become just simply because God is the substitute. It is also suspicious that Amulek makes no attempt at explaining the logic behind such a leap. Further, I have yet to see anyone make a convincing argument for how this leap can be made. Maybe another interpretation is in order.

    I would suggest that Amulek’s point in this entire passage is to say that the atonement is not based on the principle of penal-substitution. Hear me out. Remember that his audience are people who would be familiar with the law of Moses. From this, they would be used to animal sacrifice, in which the sins of the person are transferred to the animal and then the animal is killed and burned up. This ordinance does have the tendency to encourage the idea of penal-substitution. Amulek is attempting to counteract that idea, refute penal-substitution, and explain that the real atonement is based on an entirely different principle than penal-substitution. With that, let me provide my own summary of Alma 34. (I wish I could put it in a column next to the real text, but I can’t, so just open your BofM and follow along if you want):

    Alma 34:
    8. We have always taught that Christ shall come and take upon him the transgressions of his people to atone for the sins of the world.
    9. The reason for this atonement is that mankind is fallen and must perish if he is left on his own in his current state. So, according to God’s plan, there had to be an atonement to prevent mankind from being lost.
    10. The sacrifice cannot be a beast (as the law of Moses offers) or even another man.
    11. We all know that justice does not allow one person to atone for the sins of another. It is simply unjust.
    12. Rather, justice demands the life of the person who sinned. Therefore, the atonement we have learned about must be worked out on an entirely different principle than one of vicarious suffering. The real sacrifice will be different than the ones in the law of Moses, it will be the sacrifice of a God.
    13. The real sacrifice will put an end to the sacrifices in the law of Moses.
    14. The sacrifices will end because they are just reminders of the real sacrifice which will be the Son of God, when I said “infinite” I was making reference to the Son of God who is infinite.
    15. So how does this infinite sacrifice work? The whole purpose of the last sacrifice is to make mercy possible by making repentance possible. With repentance in place, mercy will be able to overpower justice.
    16. This is how mercy will be enabled without destroying justice (because justice demands that we become good, mercy can only be applied if we are repenting and becoming good). However, those who do not repent will have no mercy and will be exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice. Thus, God’s plan of redemption can only come to those who repent.

    Let me emphasize a couple of things about the text I have just paraphrased. First, it is crucially important to notice that after his cryptic conclusion in verse 12 he does go on to say what the purpose of the atonement was and he does not say that it was to vicariously pay the penalty for our sins. Quite the contrary, he says that the intent of the last sacrifice was to bring about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance:

    15 And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance. (Alma 34)

    This gives us a good reason to believe that Amulek meant it when he rejected penal-substitution. He replaces this idea of atonement with a different underlying mechanism for how the atonement works directly following that rejection. This idea was picked up by Samuel the Lamanite when he said that the atonement “bringeth to pass the condition of repentance” (Hel 14:18).

    Second, notice that Amulek mentions God’s plan in both verses 8 and 16. He starts by saying that God has a plan to redeem us (vs. 8-9), he talks about why the Law of Moses might give someone the wrong impression about how the atonement will work (vs. 10-12), he says something about how the law of Moses should be understood (vs. 13-14), and finishes by saying how the atonement actually works (vs. 15-16). The reason (just as in 2 Ne 2 and Alma 42) turns out to be that the atonement makes possible the environment in which we can repent and become good as required by the law of justice (see Alma 42 and D&C 88).

    Comment by Jacob — October 13, 2006 @ 7:56 pm

  15. Jacob #14: I generally tend to agree with your reading that atonement is more about effecting a change in us to repent, but I think the way you’ve interpreted Alma 34 somehow misses some of the significance regarding the law of Moses that Amulek is getting at. So, to play devil’s advocate:

    In verse 13 we read “and then shall there be . . . a stop to the shedding of blood” which seems to be a continuation of verse 11 talking about how their just law would require the life of a man that murders. That is, it seems the “stop to the shedding of blood” in verse 13 would more naturally imply that even for someone who murders, the life of the murderer will no longer be required because mercy satisfies justice. So, whether we say that justice is suspended or satisfied or whatever, the point seems to be that Christ’s infinite sacrifice does in fact directly intercede between us and justice.

    Perhaps another way to get at my question is to consider the nature of the just law in v. 11. Under your reading, it seems that the law would not be just if it demanded the life of a murderer if that murderer truly repented. I think that’s hard to believe. It seems the notion of justice that Amulek is appealing to is the eye-for-eye notion under Mosaic law. Under this type of just law, the murderer must die regardless of how repentant the murderer might be. I understand you could argue that the underlying assumption that Amulek is realying on is that without the atonement no repentance would be possible (i.e. a “super-fallen state”), but that seems to me a bit of a strained reading of these passages. So I’m saying the more natural reading is to say that Amulek’s emphasis is that a finite atonement is not sufficient to satisfy (alter) the law of justice, but rather an infinite atonement is required. On this view, “faith unto repentance” is emphasizing a belief that mercy will “overpower justice”—that is, despite the fact that just law requires a murderer must die, I must have faith that God’s infinite sacrifice will somehow satisfy the law of justice.

    One idea would be to read Amulek’s explanation as a discussion using the notion of justice based on their judicial laws and—closely related—the law of Moses. But that does not mean there exists in some larger eternal sense a “law of justice” that must be satisfied. Rather, the law of Moses and the ensuing notion of justice were given to help point to the need for us to repent. I think this would open several possibilities for interpreting Christ’s sacrifice. I don’t mean to say there isn’t a larger notion of justice that simply says sinners can’t dwell in God’s presence (or something to that effect), but I’m not so sure that’s the notion of justice that Amulek is appealing to.

    Comment by Robert C. — October 14, 2006 @ 8:16 am

  16. I believe that Jacob is correct that not only does Amulek not teach penal-substitution in Alma 34, but rather expressly rejects it! He states that it is unjust for one man to be punished in the place of another in the case of murder, and rejects animal sacrifice as insufficient. “11 Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another. Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay. 12 But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered.” So there is a basic rule of injustice: it is unjust to punish one man for what another did. Amulek therefore concludes: “therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world.” How does this conclusion relate to the unjust rule?

    Lemming concludes that this means that only an infinite sacrifice will be just if someone else substitutes to suffer for sin or for the crimes of another. But that is a non-sequitur. What is unjust doesn’t suddenly become just simply because it is done by someone with infinite capacities. Rather, what Amulek is pointing to — and it pointed to several times in the Book of Mormon — is that the atonement is infinite because Christ has infinite capacity for suffering for all for all time and when we see or “look to” this suffering, which includes suffering for our own sins if we repent, we are moved to open our hearts to him out of gratitude and compassion. Christ’s atoment therefore makes possible our repentance because: (1) it causes us to be willing to open our hearts if we will but look and see his love; (2) God has already made the first move and offered to reconcile with is and stands with open arms ready to receive us into his embrace; (3) Christ is moved with compassion for us by his sufferings throughout his mortal life; (4) rather than executing his penalty immediately to cause us to die for our sins, he has given us time by placing us on probattion so that we have time to decide whether we will return to relationship with God; (5) Christ is the only one able to atone because of his joint mortality and infinite capacity as God to recieve the pain of our sins into his own suffering so that we don’t have to suffer and in this way he “takes upon him” and “suffers for” our sins.

    The key to the explanation of atonement in Alma 41-42 is that the entire purpose of life is to be left free to choose whether we will remain alienated from God by our sins; or whether we will choose freely to enter into relationship with God. The penal-substitution theory does not require repentance as a condition of restoring the relationship; rather, Christ stands in our place and his merits of righteousness are accepted by the Father in the place of our sinfulness. However, the purpose of atonement in the Book of Mormon is to make a free choice possible by making mercy and repentance possible. As Alma stated in Alma 42:

    13. Therefore, according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state; for except it were for these conditions, mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice. Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, then God would cease to be God.
    15. And thus we see that all mankind were fallen, and they were in the grasp of justice; yea, the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence.
    16. And now the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.

    Thus, the text does not have penal-subtitution in mind because repentance has no place in the atonement in that theory. Rather, Amulek and Alma teach a different notion of justice than is assumed in the penal-substittution as both Jacob and I have explained at some length: justice returns to each man what each truly desires. We sew what we reap; we receive back back what we have sent out. Justice = the Law of the Harvest. As Alma stated:

    13. [T]he meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish – good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful.
    14. Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.
    15. For that which ye do send out shall return to you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all.

    The conclusion is that the atonement makes us free to choose whether to return to God’s embrace or to remain alienated from him by our sins; to choose life or death, to be God’s or Satan’s sons and daughters. So God is merciful because he places us on probation to make this key free decision: to repent or remain alienated from God. God is just because we are judged and receive what we deserve and choose. God is merceiful because rather than executing justice immediately he places us on probation by allowing us to become mortal and have a space of time in which to decide. In this way, God is both just and merciful. The final conclusion Alma reaches is that the atonement makes us free to choose by God’s justice and mercy:

    27. Therefore, O my son, whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds.
    28. If he desired to do evil, and has not repented in his days, behold, evil shall be done unto him, according to the restoration of God.

    The purpose of atonement is to make us free to choose to end our alienation from God by repentance. The entire purpose of life is to give us a space to freely choose whether we will have a loving relationship with God or remain alienated.

    Comment by Blake — October 14, 2006 @ 8:38 am

  17. Blake,

    Thanks for an excellent explanation. I only had one quarrel, which is that your list of 5 ways in which the atonement made repentance possible (in your second paragraph of #16) did not include the fact that the atonement gave us the light of Christ to teach us the moral law and entice us to do good. From previous conversations I understood that we generally agree that this was an important consequence of the atonement, but I might be forgetting something. Either way, I wanted to say for the record that I would have added it to the list if it were me.

    Comment by Jacob — October 14, 2006 @ 9:50 am

  18. Robert C (#15),

    Ok, I get part of your complaint, but I am still not entirely clear on your reading. Let me try to reproduce it and have you correct me if I go wrong. It seems that you are saying Amulek has in mind a fully retributive justice. Thus, Amulek was saying that justice would always demand the life of the murderer, regardless of repentance, and the atonement would have to “overpower” justice by being infinite. The last part is very unclear to me. How would the infinite atonement satisfy justice? Would it be by denying its demand for the life of the murderer–if so, how is this not a denial of justice instead of a satisfaction of justice? Is it mysterious (you said “that is, despite the fact that just law requires a murderer must die, I must have faith that God’s infinite sacrifice will somehow satisfy the law of justice.” emphasis mine)–if so, how is this an explanation at all? Is it penal-substitution–if so, how does this fit with Amulek’s rejection of penal-substitution?

    I don’t agree with your assumption that the law of Moses taught a fully retributive theory of justice. Contrary to popular belief, the oft mentioned “eye for an eye” did not, in fact, mean that they poked out the eye of a person who took someone’s eye. Instead, it meant that for every kind of offense, there was some form of restitution specified by the law, and bigger restitution was required for bigger offense against someone. It was all about fair compensation and it did not, in practice, lead to everyone being blind and toothless. (The whole point of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” was that an eye would require an eye’s worth of compensation (more) while a tooth would only call for a tooth’s worth of compensation. Under the Law of Moses, revenge was strictly forbidden (Lev 19:18). It is true that capital punishment was part of the Law of Moses, but that law was not based on a fully retributive theory of justice, which is my point.

    So, while I am still not sure about how you read this passage, it seems your suggested reading requires us to assume that justice means something which I don’t believe it means, and which I don’t find in the Law of Moses. As you point out about my reading:

    Under your reading, it seems that the law would not be just if it demanded the life of a murderer if that murderer truly repented.

    That might be hard for some people to swallow at first, but that is my actual belief about what justice demands. So, you might argue (without sound evidence in my opinion) that Amulek does not believe this about justice, but then, it is the exact notion of justice that Alma goes on to explain in great detail only a few chapters later (Alma 41).

    Comment by Jacob — October 14, 2006 @ 10:13 am

  19. This has been one of the best posts I have read in a long, long time. Thank you all for contributing, I have learned much and appreciate your time effort and thoughts. Thanks

    Comment by don — October 14, 2006 @ 10:21 am

  20. Thanks don, very much appreciated.

    Comment by Jacob — October 14, 2006 @ 10:40 am

  21. Jacob: You are right that accepting the light that is offered as a matter of sheer grace is essential to my view of atonement. It is included implicitly. God’s standing offer of relationship, his open arms, is the functional equivalent of offering us his light. The moment we open our hearts the light is accepted and we enter into relationship with God (the persons of the Godhead as one) and that movement of entry into relationship is “justification” in Paul’s terminology or “redemption” in Alma/Amulek’s terminology. We are justified and redeemed in a moment of movement into entry into relationship with God as a mater of free choice to accept the relationship (made possible by atonement). We accept the light in an initial moment and then begin to grow in the light in a continuing process of sanctification — unless we choose to harden our hearts again. Sanctification is the process of continuing to grow in the light until the perfect day — which is deification. Sanctification is the process of deification and justification is the commencement of that process. So add this parargraph to the list!

    Comment by Blake — October 14, 2006 @ 11:17 am

  22. Jacob #18 It seems that you are saying Amulek has in mind a fully retributive justice. Thus, Amulek was saying that justice would always demand the life of the murderer, regardless of repentance, and the atonement would have to “overpower” justice by being infinite.

    In think Amulek uses the word atone in the “pay for” sense, or at least he was aware that his audience would (or at least might) interpret the word this way. This is how he uses the word atone in verse 11, that only the blood of the murderer can “atone” for a murder. But, since this payment-kind-of-atonement does not allow for substitutionary punishment, he explains that the Atonement cannot be finite. And so, I take Amulek to mean, there must be an infinite atonement that somehow satisfies justice. I admit that the shift in verse 12 is pointing to something beyond a finite notion of atonement, but I don’t see any reason to believe that infinite atonement should be thought of in fundamentally different terms. That is, if a finite atonement means “suffering punishment for crime,” then I’m inclined to interpret an infinite atonement in the sense of “suffering punishment for crime” also, just in some infinite sense that allows for the type of substition not possible with finite atonement….

    I agree that verses 13-14 are saying that the Law of Moses points toward Christ’s sacrifice (thanks for the explanation of eye-for-an-eye). I agree that verse 15 is not necessarily describing a penal-substitution theory, just that Amulek hasn’t explicitly offered a new understanding for the word atone. “The means” of repentance I think can be read in terms of paying off justice so that the sinner has an opportunity (a probationary space) to repent.

    On this point, let me digress to Alma 41-42: I think Alma primarily uses the metaphor of sin that stains us and can be cleansed through the blood of Christ (he seems to use this metaphor repeatedly). So, if Christ’s sacrifice gives us both the opportunity and the means to cleanse ourselves, justice will have no further claim on us. I think this leaves open several possibilities for intepretation of justice. That is, I don’t see this as directly contradicting the penal substitution theory because Alma never seems to address exactly how Christ’s sacrifice makes this possible. I agree Alma does not seem to be explicitly putting forth a notion of penal-substitution, rather he’s simply describing how justice will have power over us if we do not repent of our sins—if our garments are stained with sin at the judgment day, justice will have claim on us. But how “the plan of mercy” actually works, seems an open question—perhaps Christ’s sacrifice “pays off” justice, or perhaps Christ’s suffering is what makes it possible for us to repent. I do think that certain phrases Alma uses (e.g. “mercy claimeth,” “punishment affixed,”judged according to works”) suggest a possible (though not necessarily) penal-subsitution view, esp. in light of how Amulek seemed to expect his audience to understand the word “atone.”

    Back to Alma 34, I think verse 16 may offer the the strongest (though far from conclusive) evidence of a penal-substition type of reading: the phrase “exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice” presupposes a concept of the law that is not whole. What is the law if it is not whole? If we are to take the views of Amulek and Alma as reconcilable, I think we cannot read this as saying the law isn’t wholly satisfied. Rather, if we repent, we are not exposed to the full demands of justice because Christ atones/pays for part of the demands of justice for us.

    Comment by Robert C. — October 14, 2006 @ 2:53 pm

  23. Robert,

    I’ll engage your vs 16 argument in due time, but first let me try to get to the bottom of the central issue. I am still picking up some very vague phrases in your suggestions.

    And so, I take Amulek to mean, there must be an infinite atonement that somehow satisfies justice. (emphasis mine)

    That is, if a finite atonement means “suffering punishment for crime,” then I’m inclined to interpret an infinite atonement in the sense of “suffering punishment for crime” also, just in some infinite sense that allows for the type of substition not possible with finite atonement…. (emphasis mine)

    So, what could this “infinite” sense be? It seems there are only a few options.

    1. Amulek was teaching penal-substitution but his appeal to an infinite atonement makes no sense because it doesn’t make penal-substitution just.
    2. Amulek was teaching penal-substitution and there is an explanation for how an infinite atonement makes penal-substitution just. (if so, please fill in what this way is).
    3. Amulek was teaching penal-substitution and an infinite atonement makes penal-substitution just, but the way in which it does this remains a mystery.
    4. Amulek was not teaching penal-substitution.

    Which are you suggesting? Or are there options I’ve left out?

    Comment by Jacob — October 14, 2006 @ 4:53 pm

  24. Jacob, I’m saying that I think (at this point) that (3) or (4) is possible, with (3) seeming the most natural reading of the text (even if less theologically satisfying…).

    To clarify slightly, I think Amulek is building on the teachings of Zenos and Zenock (and Moses) as the people understood them. That is, perhaps there is a better model for understanding the way the atonement actually works (I do think Alma gives a more nuanced view of justice in 41-42), but Amulek finds the way the people understood the word atonement (i.e. I think 34:11 suggests penal-substitution) sufficiently correct to testify of this meaning, and to build upon this type understanding of theirs by clarifying/testifying that there will be a great and last sacrifice that answers the demands of the law of justice in a way that a finite substitionary atonement—and hence all previous sacrifices under the law of Moses—would not.

    I do not think Amulek is giving a treatise on the intricacies of how justice (and atonement works). Rather, it seems Amulek is simply giving a testismony of the atonement in a way that is consistent with their current (or previous; cf. 34:2) understanding of atonement. I think Amulek’s excursis in vv. 10b-16 is primarily an effort to explain that the law of Moses needs to be fulfilled by Christ and that the sacrifices required under the law of Moses were not redemptive in themselves, only symbolic of the infinite sacrifice of the Son of God (which is redemptive/atoning)–after all, Amulek says that this is his purpose in v. 5….

    Comment by Robert C. — October 14, 2006 @ 6:46 pm

  25. What makes you so sure that Justice REQUIRES punishment? I firmly believe that justice requires RESTITUTION (make the victim whole), not punishment (which is why I hate the current US system of “justice” – it focuses on punishing the criminal and all but forgets about restoring the victim).

    Comment by ed42 — October 14, 2006 @ 7:47 pm

  26. Amulek’s discourse is fascinating. It brings up ideas that we just dont discuss much in Church. It seems to me that the obvious reading is that penal substitution is not correct. It is the result of concrete thinking. The truth is more difficult for us to grasp. Since a great number of God’s children work on a concrete operational level, and ALL of us are very lacking in understanding in comparison to God, I think that penal substitution definitely does serve a purpose. There was a reason that the law of sacrifice as practiced in the OT served as a type of the Savior. The Lord has to work with us on a level we can comprehend before stretching our understanding line upon line. I see Amulek as opening that door.

    Comment by Doc — October 14, 2006 @ 9:09 pm

  27. Jacob,

    I agree that penal substitution is incoherent. However, the classic debt allegory is not penal substitution at all, it is restitution substitution.

    In our mortal state all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. By “sinned” we should read trespassed against others, injured them, caused them harm. It is the victims injuries that demand to be made whole. The demands of the victims are the demands of justice, and the victims themselves are the creditors that demand restitution.

    Now under the civil law, the sinners are liable to restore unto the victims sufficient compensation to make them whole. Unfortunately, the sinners are all bankrupt, having been defrauded by others themselves. And so the courts are choked with demands for restitution that never get satisfied and everyone, starting to lose faith in the justice system, concludes that it is a joke, and they should lie a little, cheat a little, take advantage of one’s neighbor, because the day of reckoning will never come. And if it did, what would justice take away anyway?

    Now Jesus Christ enters the picture with the plan of At-one-ment. He will act as the Mediator. The plan is as follows:

    1. Everyone is required to turn over their claims (demands for restitution) to him.

    2. He promises to satisfy all claims, to make all injuries whole, in the process of time, as well as make possible many other great blessings beyond our comprehension.

    3. He promises to release and hold harmless all sinners, on condition of repentance.

    4. In order to obtain the fulness of these blessings, he requires us to serve how and where required, with a glad heart and a cheerful countenance.

    Now that is actually reasonably close to Elder Packer’s parable, with the exception of the identity of the creditor. And like Elder Packer’s, it is no penal substitution plan, but rather a restitution substitution or rather restitution mediation plan.

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 14, 2006 @ 10:03 pm

  28. Mark: the atonement simply is not an economic transaction. It isn’t a matter of civil claims, but of relationships to be healed. Surely we do what we can to restore and heal relationships, but that isn’t much like paying back a debt and much less like paying the debt owed by a third party. If you murder someoine, I can’t serve your sentence for you. Nor can I pay a debt to satisfy it. The “satisfaction” isn’t an economic transaction at all, but simply meeting the requirements of both mercy and justice. The economic transactions takes us out of the realm of I-Thou relations and places us in the context of things, objects and I-It relations. It is a category error. As for 1-4, I just don’t see them anywhere in scripture. How could anyone “require” us to serve with a glad heart? Is it like my dad used to say: “OK everyone will have fun beginning now or else.”

    Comment by Blake — October 14, 2006 @ 10:43 pm

  29. Blake,

    As to your first point, I agree. Man cannot be saved by the law alone, but love is the fulfilment of the law.

    Now as to economy, if you think you can survive by give, give, giving all the time, without the slightest blessing in return, I admire your tenacity. However, I think in the real world justice has to be served, and service eventually has to be reciprocated (however indirectly) or in the long run, we are all dead – or in other words there is no Atonement. This passage comes to mind:

    Your words have been stout against me, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee?

    Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the LORD of hosts? And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.

    Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name.

    And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him. Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.
    (Mal 3:13-18)

    I should also say that I don’t think one can come up with a viable distinction between balancing an economic transaction and satisfying the demands of justice, in the general sense of the term. The Lord’s economy just happens to be far more exact than ours is. Ours is denominated in the currency of the world. His is denominated in the currency of the Spirit.

    The Lord asks or requires us to do comparable things all the time. See D&C 59:15-16, 2 Ne 2:7, D&C 97:8. I admit that being positively cheerful is not exactly a commandment, but the Lord loves a cheerful giver, and those who give grudgingly, might just as well not have given at all. See Moro 7:8.

    By the way, this painful sin energy you have spoken of – how is it not an “it”?

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 14, 2006 @ 11:57 pm

  30. I was about to comment along the same lines as Mark. I don’t think any “viable distinction between balancing an economic transaction and satisfying the demands of justice” can be found. The wrong person is punished for crimes all the time. To begin with, when a crime is committed, the victim is being punished and the perpetrator of the crime is gaining something, even if fleetingly. (Money, or some other need/want fulfillment.)

    If my brother is robbed and I pay him for what he has been robbed and otherwise restore him to his former state, justice has not been served. I should know it and my brother should know it, but not because I cannot suffer to restore my brother, but because now I have suffered and the bandit still has not repaid me. In this case, I should think that I would be no easier to repay than my brother would have been.

    If my brother had been beaten, he could be restored all the same, and it would require help external to himself. It is not as easy for us to keep track of, but the reality of it is no less.

    Somehow, I think, the Lord desires something from us that we are more apt to pay, and if we are not willing to do so, it is off to “prison” with us until it has been paid. (even if that requires all of eternity)

    Comment by seanmcox — October 15, 2006 @ 9:48 am

  31. Mark: I simply have no idea whatsoever of what you mean by “currency of the spirit”. Is it somehow like paying money so that you don’t feel guilty for raping or murdering someone?

    The energy that we store is simply the data or memory of our experience. It is a part of how we choose to experience life. You don’t deny that you have memories or feelings and that they continue to affect you even after they are done do you?

    Comment by Blake — October 15, 2006 @ 9:57 am

  32. Blake (#16): (4) rather than executing his penalty immediately to cause us to die for our sins, he has given us time by placing us on probattion so that we have time to decide whether we will return to relationship with God;

    I have seen you say this in several places (including your book) but it confuses me every time. What do you mean by “executing his penalty immediately”? As I understand your position, the punishment is separation and alientation from God; but that is something that we choose on an ongoing basis, not something that God “executes” at some moment in time. Further, you have indicated that free will is part of our eternal nature and that any person could choose turn to God in loving relationship at any time throughout eternity. So what do you mean when you say God forebears in executing a penalty on us?

    Comment by Geoff J — October 15, 2006 @ 10:16 am

  33. Robert C (#24),

    You make some good points here. And you bring up a useful distinction: One question is how Amulek understood (or didn’t understand) the atonement and another much more important question is how the atonement really works. I think you are right that in a plain reading Amulek seems to first be supporting a penal-substitution view as an extension of the law of Moses, but then he undercuts that idea. Amulek was no philosopher or theologian; rather he was a new convert, so some inconsistency in his theology is not surprising to me. If you are if you are mostly arguing here that Amulek seemed to like the idea of penal substitution theory I would agree with you. But he clearly was against the actual ideas that are entailed by penal substitution — that one person could justly pay for the sins of another.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 15, 2006 @ 10:48 am

  34. Blake,

    The currency of the Spirit is much like the inverse of the painful sin energy you have described earlier. In the scriptures it is usually called light. Like normal light, it may be modulated according to circumstance – it can bring us warmth, comfort, health, and peace as well as convey meaning, direction, and enlightenment [1].

    One of the scriptural names is the light of Christ – which proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space, the “light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things”. [2]

    Now I do not mean that the light of Christ is necessary for an electron to stay in its orbit, but rather that the light of Christ sustains and directs all living things by degrees. We might further note that the light of Christ is not independent of his person – the light proceeds from the presence of God. A divine personage literally glows with the Spirit.

    However, the generation of the light of Christ in the form and manner needed to sustain the righteous and bring the unrighteous to repentance causes Him to suffer in his body and in his person. It is nothing so simple as an electrical power grid – the right spiritual promptings, and blessings, and withdrawals must be generated in real time or the message of the Spirit will be lost upon his children.

    And the effort required to sustain this performance, the mantle of the Spirit, both concious and autonomous according to the nature of the spiritual coupling between his body and ours, causes him to suffer in both body and spirit.

    Now the currency of the Spirit is tailored for our needs. It is nothing so simple as money, but yet the Lord uses monetary allegories to describe the basic principles of the currency of the Spirit on a regular basis. The Gospels are full of them. The only first order difference between the currency of the Spirit and the currency of the world, is individuals cannot save up the former – it is a real time phenomenon only.

    That is significant. If someone trivially injures me, and I demand restitution from them, in a way I am saying that my daily bread – the daily bread I receive from the Spirit, and according to what the Lord has allotted me even for the healing from that injury, is not good enough.

    If I refuse to forgive them, it is as if I knock down their credit rating a couple hundred points, and treat them as persona non grata after that. When practiced by individuals, rather than by the Lord, that is contrary to the nature of the Atonement.

    So as I said, everyone is required to turn over all claims for restitution to the Lord – i.e. as individuals they are required to unconditionally forgive every other person their trespasses. But as we do it unto the least of these his brethren, we do it unto Jesus, he retains the sovereign right to judge according to his own will and pleasure in furtherance of the plan of salvation.

    Through casting all our burdens (claims) upon the Lord, He gains the moral right and obligation to judge the wicked, in consequence of what they have done unto us, much as a sovereign has the right and the obligation to prosecute crimes against society. For unlike the civil law, in the Atonement, we are no longer a collection of individuals who sue and are sued, we are one body in Christ [3].

    And the Lord indeed grants us our daily bread, and promises to make all injuries whole, as long as we abide within the terms of the covenant. And because of those blessings, which he provides in short order through the agency of his Spirit and those directed thereby, he has paid us, and thus we are indebted to him, and always will be, forever and ever. [4]

    [1] D&C 84:45
    [2] D&C 88:7,12-13
    [3] 1 Cor 10:16-17
    [4] Mosiah 2:24

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 15, 2006 @ 2:51 pm

  35. ed42 (#25), It sounds like you and Mark are on the same wavelength in terms of justice demanding restitution.

    Doc (#26), I agree wholeheartedly with your comment, especially the part about the obvious reading of Amulek as a rejection of penal-substitution, which I will say more about in a moment.

    seanmcox (#30), Thanks for your comment, I agree with your thoughts. I think your first line was supposed to say “along the same lines as Blake,” right?

    Mark, I don’t want to derail the discussion of penal-substitution by getting deeply into other atonement theories here, but I will say that I think your restitution-substitution theory is much better than the penal-substitution theory. I am glad we are on the same page about penal-substitution, though.

    Comment by Jacob — October 15, 2006 @ 3:27 pm

  36. Geoff: So what do you mean when you say God forebears in executing a penalty on us?

    I’ve been giving an exegesis of Alma 41-42. The language regarding executing the penalty of justice immediately is Alma’s: “”for behold, if Adam had put forth his hand immediately, and partaken of the tree of life, he would have lived forever, according to the word of God, having no space for repentance; yea, and also the word of God would have been void, and great plan of salvation frustrated.” (42:5, emphasis added) So the purpose of the atonement, in part, is to grant a space of time where God’s sentence of death is not imposed on Adam and Eve immediately and instead they are given a time in which to repent. So the “execution of justice immediately” is to immediately and once and for all consign us to eternal spiritual death. This life is the space of time during which God places on probation rather than deciding immediately that we shall be judged solely on the decision to repent and tr-turn to God. Without atonement, if we once sinned, there would be no chance for repentance because a single sin would consign us forever from God’s presence. At least that is how I understand what Alma is saying. Does that make sense to you?

    Comment by Blake — October 15, 2006 @ 4:01 pm

  37. Mark: The only first order difference between the currency of the Spirit and the currency of the world, is individuals cannot save up the former – it is a real time phenomenon only.

    Mark, the reason that your reference to “spiritual currency’ makes little sense to me is that currency is necessarily a medium of exchange that allows value to be represented and therefore stored in another medium. So far as I can see, what you refer to has no point of contact with currency or money. As such, it has no contact with penal substitution or metaphors of paying debts.

    Comment by Blake — October 15, 2006 @ 4:05 pm

  38. Robert, (and partially Geoff I guess),

    Thanks for answering my question in #23, that helps. I think option (3) is a terrible option, and you seem to be leaning toward it only because you think the text itself is most naturally read as an endorsement of penal-substitution. He does use “atone” in a payment sort of way, but only to argue that this is not how the real atonement works, so I don’t think that is a good argument for the text supporting penal-substitution. I continue to believe it is only the plain reading because we are used to reading it that way and we were raised on a steady diet of penal-substitution theory.

    In #22, you said “I think verse 16 may offer the the strongest (though far from conclusive) evidence of a penal-substition type of reading,” so let’s look at verse 16 a little bit closer.

    15 And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.
    16 And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption.

    To what does the “thus” at the beginning of verse 16 refer? Answering this will tell us how “mercy can satisfy the demands of justice.” You have been stressing the “overpowereth justice” in vs. 15 and then pleading ignorance as to how the atonement overpowers justice. I have been stressing the “bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance” from verse 15, because I believe repentance is what enables mercy to overpower justice. I believe my reading is supported strongly by the text itself. Notice that verse 16 says:

    “he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice”

    “therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption.”

    If the stress on repentance as the central point is not clear from this, just look at the rest of the chapter:

    “begin to exercise your faith unto repentance” (vs 17)

    “come forth and bring fruit unto repentance” (vs. 30)

    “if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you” (vs. 31)

    “do not procrastinate the day of your repentance” (vs. 33)

    Clearly, the early section of the chapter serves as a springboard to the rest of the chapter by showing us the central role of repentance in the plan of salvation. So, what place does repentance have? Repentance is what satisfies the demands of justice, because justice demands that we become good. Repentance is not about punishment and substitution, but about becoming something. Notice that this emphasis on becoming good is right there in the text. See verse 28 and also the whole thing about not procrastinating our repentance: “for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.” So, the point is that we have to become good. Don’t procrastinate because you will be the same person in the next world that you are here, and the whole point is to become a good person through the process of repentance.

    Nothing in the whole chapter seems to argue for penal-substitution. Rather, Amulek says the atonement brings about the means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance, and then he spends the rest of the time saying the ball is now in your court–start repenting. Point me to the part that argues for penal-substitution because I am not seeing it.

    Comment by Jacob — October 15, 2006 @ 4:39 pm

  39. I agree with Jacob. I see nothing to suggest penal-substitution. The notion of “satisfaction” isn’t satisfaction or payment of a debt, but satisfaction of the logical or metaphysical conditions of both mercy and justice. Just because we are all judged and receive what we send out; and merciful because we are placed on probation rather than having final judgment immediately that would consign us to be cut off from God’s presence forever. There is a sense of breach of covenant because the penalty for breach of covenant is “to be cut off from the presence of the Lord,” and there is satisfaction of the conditions necessary to restore us to the presence of tge Lord — time to repent and a free choice to repent. Frankly, repentance has no place at all in penal-payment theories. Repentance is not the cash paid to satisfy God’s justice. The time to repent is a gift freely given; and the choice to repent is freely made.

    Comment by Blake — October 15, 2006 @ 5:28 pm

  40. Blake,

    I think penal substitution is nonsense. Even without substitution, there is no salvation in retribution alone. Too many people think of justice in terms of the offender getting is ‘just desserts’ – outside of a very limited context (deterrence mostly) that just compounds the error. And punishing the wrong person doubly compounds it.

    Now as to the other matter, I think you are defining currency too narrowly. Currency means something relatively discrete flowing or in circulation, similar in most respects to the term current.

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 15, 2006 @ 6:02 pm

  41. Jacob,

    Technically, I do not think justice demands that we become good, but rather that justice demands that we cease doing evil. That is a material difference.

    According to D&C 88 anyone who abides within the bounds of the law of the kingdom where he resides is justified [1]. But no one can be saved by the (lesser) law alone [2]. Love, sacrifice, service, etc. are generally above and beyond the (lesser, or civil) law. Compliance leads at best to justification in the eyes of the law.

    But justification (even by grace) cannot save anyone. Sanctification requires a change of heart, and an offering one’s own person as a living sacrifice [5] according to what we might call the higher law (the law of mercy [6]), not just formal compliance with the terms of the lesser law, the law of justice.

    The law of justice does not demand this higher sacrifice. Compliance with the lesser law justifies, (to the degree such compliance is possible[3]). i.e. no one has a civil claim against one who is in compliance with the law of justice (i.e. one who gives to every man his due).

    But on the other hand one who is just, but not merciful, forgoes all the blessings that come to those who suffer, serve, and sacrifice even unto death according to the law of mercy [8]. The higher law is not a demand, but rather an invitation. Has anyone ever heard of divine retribution against the merely lukewarm? Rejection, sure [4], but retribution is another matter [7].

    [1] D&C 88:38-39
    [2] Mosiah 13:28, Gal 2:21
    [3] Rom 3:23
    [4] Rev 3:16
    [5] Rom 12:1
    [6] Gal 6:2, D&C 88:21
    [7] Isa 13:11
    [8] 2 Cor 1:5-7

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 15, 2006 @ 8:55 pm

  42. Mark,

    I’ll admit that I am leaving a lot out of my theory of justice so I can see why that would seem an incorrect view. Not sure if I want to try to remedy that just yet, but your objection is noted.

    Comment by Jacob — October 15, 2006 @ 10:42 pm

  43. Wow, I have so much enjoyed my homework, and have to give you the ultimate compliment, which is that I have been studying on these topics since our initial conversation with great interest. I apologize greatly for my length here. (and I haven’t even finished your article yet!) This is based on over 20 pages of articles though…

    May I humbly suggest that to have a productive discussion on this most important of all subjects, it may be valuable to define the following terms. I will attempt to do so here as well:

    The Law- This consists of two parts, eternal laws which coexist with God, and the Laws which God has created for the purpose us helping us to fulfill the eternal laws. These laws can also be divided another way, spiritual laws and temporal laws, but I can not say there is a one to one relationship of spiritual to eternal and temporal to God-created law. I do not see evidence yet to support such a case. This is a working definition, and not 100% there yet.

    Justice- A tentative definition will be the correct application of the consequences of The Law. Due to the limit of words, I will sadly resort to analogy(If anyone can get around this for me, I’d be much obliged): the justice of gravity is that we land when we jump. (I exand on this later on, see 3a.)

    Mercy- A use of higher understanding of all things involved to help another avoid undesired consequences of the Law. I’m not entirely satisfied here either. I am resorting to my analogy for justice to come up with the definition here, which seems unsatisfactory to me. At any rate, I am thinking of airplanes, wings, etc..

    Sin- A first try would be…Acts we do which have negative unwanted consequences. I can already see flaws here, such as intent, but am not sure I should add the word “intentional” as a descriptor of “acts”.

    Punishment- The Punishment is the negative unwanted consequences of our actions, of course. These consequences are unwanted by our future eternal perfect selves and are negative in that they prevent or impede us from becoming said selves. Who delivers these punishments? This may come across as unclear, but these may be natural consequences, based on eternal laws. To throw another bad analogy out there, all other things constant, a ball in motion stays in motion until an opposing force stops it. (Wow that’s unclear)

    Needless to say, I need some help on these definitions. My mind is working, but the keyboard isn’t creating what I feel.

    I may also add that my definitions are heavily influenced by the rumored statement of Boyd K. Packer that justice and mercy are one and the same. This was said to have been stated by President Packer during the 2000 Mission President’s Seminar. I am intending to write the office of President Packer to confirm or deny this rumored statement (if I can sum up the courage or audacity to do so), but at any rate, it influences me heavily at this point.

    Ok, below are my notes as I’ve moved on through the texts. Sorry if this seems very long. I’ll attempt to edit for brevity upon conclusion.

    I just finished Potter’s paper now, and will freely admit I like the ending much more than the beginning. It seems if he had started at the scripture, it would have been much more palatable for me. In fact, It seems he worked out the end, then came up with the beginning as an after thought. I do not detract any of my previous concerns, and I do have a quibble or two with (though I thoroughly enjoyed it) the ending. The Empathy theory suggested however, seems very similar to the substitution theory (Please allow my removal of the term penal, if only to avoid more gender alteration humor) depending on the definitions above. In both cases, Christ does “pay” for our sins it seems, the difference is only in why he “pays”. (In one he vicariously suffers to help us take away our “punishment”, and in the other, he suffers so he may understand us, so he can help us take away our “punishment” via enlightenment.) Also, while I have to admit that I Grew up Catholic and not LDS (joining when I was 21), It has not been my perception that the church simply teaches substitution theory. Perhaps it would be profitable for me to do a review of the official literature on the atonement from primary level to present, but that may yield an entirely different study, and I don’t have time for that at the moment.

    I’ll now move on to your Dialogue article:

    I want to be sensitive here, and first acknowledge that I respect you and that I recognize you worked very hard on this text. It is MUCH better than Potter’s piece. I hope you do not take any critique I may give as an insult to you or your theological beliefs. Most of my quibbles will be addressed to issues of clarity, and I hope may be given for the purpose of strengthening your position in future iterations. I am not disagreeing with you, but trying to get a tighter grasp. I now profess I will critique with an attempt at objectivity. I have probably failed already.

    1. At the beginning you state that Alma 34:11-12 seems to reject vicarious suffering for sin. I think this needs clarification. Perhaps “vicarious suffering for sin for the purpose of transmitting the guilt, culpability or punishment for the sin to the second party”? I say this because there seem to be too many scriptures which argue directly for suffering for sin. A sample would be: Alma 33:22 – “he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins”. I would propose that vicarious suffering for sin is not by itself the central tenant of the substitution theory, but requires the mentioned additional assumptions.
    2. The historical theories, while I’m not altogether familiar with each of them, are well represented. The first two I have no arguments on and seem pretty mythological(though I could see symbolic value in Ransom theory). The moral influence theory I have a quibble on, though not major. It’s your train example, if someone jumped in front of a train to set an example because they knew that example would save millions, is a bit different than someone just setting an example of how to be good. Still I think it does lack, as if it were merely to be a good example, you’d supposed it would have been a more prominently displayed example. It seems there must be something objective to the atonement. While I think this can be coupled with another theory, I don’t see it as good enough on it’s own, which I believe was your understanding as well.
    3. Since the Substitution Theory is the central point of your post, and since I’ve been tapped in your post as it’s principal defender, and since I do have an irrational need to defend Packer’s “The Mediator” I do have some things to add here. You ask, why would justice accept [Christ’s Suffering] as payment for sins? I think a way to answer this is to challenge a few definitions.

    a. Justice- you divide it into punitive and deserts justice. I would release these two and instead delineate on different lines. Consequence Justice, which would be similar to deserts just, in that we get what we deserve, but add to it that we “reap what we sow”, despite our intent and what is in “our hearts”. Thus punitive justice’s suffering falls in this category. Secondly there is restitution justice, which would replace punitive justice, in that suffering is not the overall aim of this justice, but it is, as we commonly say of a criminal “paying our debt to society”. It is doing what we can to right the wrong. A third form of justice might also be included; protection justice is when an offender is deemed unsafe to the society as a whole, and removed from the society. This can be coupled with restitution justice (prison) or can stand alone (death sentence, exile from celestial kingdom).

    b. Creditor- having just reread the mediator, the creditor seems like it can be none other than the “sinned against”. I think this radically alters the LDS interpretation of penal substitution, and adds questions to your 2nd concern in the definition of forgiveness. Also, you say, “it seems everyone should be forgiven of their sins automatically”, but this seems somewhat confusing in light of “The Mediator” (perhaps it is a mistake of mine to lean so heavily upon the parable, but it has been important to me in this study to do so.), this is not what happens, but rather, the “sinned against” is given help and freed from the pain caused by the sinner, while the sinner is not forgiven the debt, but given a new opportunity to make restitution for the debt.

    Your third point on substitution I have to say I am not sure of my answer for. Why can’t we pay for our own sins? Because we don’t know our sins? Because of the butterfly effect in life? Because we never thought a reckoning (consequence) would come?

    To conclude on the Substitution Theory, I think there are problems here, but they are problems having to do with the suffering. You say later in your paper that the central idea of the substitution theory is that “sin can be remitted only by suffering”. This is not how I understand the remission of sins, and if it is indeed the case, what form of suffering? Isn’t remitting our sins letting go of suffering for them? I have other concerns as well, Why would a kind loving father send a son to suffer? Why would a son need to suffer? I can not articulate my problems well here, but they are there. Still, I think the Sub theory is incomplete, not necessarily incorrect. Scriptures like Isaiah 51:22 would first need to be accounted for first to completely remove the idea.

    4. It’s interesting to me how differently we interpreted Potter’s Empathy Theory. You took it as an enabler in Christ’s capacity to judge righteously, because he otherwise would be ignorant. This may not appropriately consider non-linear time possibilities, but Christ was able to read minds outside of the moment of atonement, and Our Father in Heaven proclaims he knows the intents of our hearts, so this seems like scripturally tenuous grounds, at best. My description of my understanding is above, and I had some quibbles as well, but I can definitely see your concerns here. I especially like how you acknowledge the atonement’s active influence on our lives’ right now. I think the scriptures and prophets (and personal experience) attest to the atonement’s capacity for “instant relief”. And this is important to consider. I would agree that your interpretation of Potter’s theory puts the deficiency on Christ, not on man. I would ask if you’ve had any correspondence form Potter to clarify his position?

    I have really enjoyed your concept of the divine infusion theory, and must confess I have not yet completed my reading through of it. I especially like the descriptor of a super fallen state. I did want to post this part before I continued on, as This is getting way to long for a comment…

    More later…

    Comment by Matt Witten — October 16, 2006 @ 9:26 am

  44. Ok, that comment is disgusting. I am making a two paragraph or less comment committment from now on… :)

    Comment by Matt Witten — October 16, 2006 @ 9:28 am

  45. Matt,

    Sounds like you had a good weekend! We’ll have to pick something to start with since I don’t think we can discuss all those points at once. Let me make a couple of responses first to get them out of the way.

    I hope you do not take any critique I may give as an insult to you or your theological beliefs.

    Nope, fire away. After all, this isn’t Relief Society.

    I would ask if you’ve had any correspondence from Potter to clarify his position?

    I have never spoken or had any correspondence with Potter. I am very much an out-of-the-loop amateur. I wrote the paper as part of my own process of thinking through things, then decided to submit it to Dialogue to see what would happen. I have wondered since if I violated any rules of courtesy in not contacting Dennis and allowing him to clarify before it was published. Although the peer reviewing is anonymous (so I don’t know who reviewed it), I have always sort of assumed/hoped Dialogue ran it past him before approving it for publication, since his paper was published in Dialogue as well. I should say that although I took issue with the Empathy Theory, his paper holds a special place for me because it really was the paper that got me interested in atonement theory. I have no idea what he thought of my paper (assuming he is aware of it).

    Comment by Jacob — October 16, 2006 @ 10:09 am

  46. Tangentially, I have to confess, I didn’t even know Dialogue was peer reviewed. From what I’ve read, it didn’t seem to be that sort of magazine. (Much of what I’ve read has seemed more op-ed). Maybe I am prejudging Dialogue from my limited experience. As a curiosity, were there any requests for changes, suggestions made from the review?

    Comment by Matt Witten — October 16, 2006 @ 10:55 am

  47. Matt, Indeed, Dialogue is peer-reviewed. I assume they have some differences in reviewing for different types of submissions (articles, opinion pieces, poetry, book reviews, etc). There were some excellent suggestions from the reviewers as well as a request to shorten from the editor, all of which resulted in changes before publication.

    Comment by Jacob — October 16, 2006 @ 11:36 am

  48. Jacob (#35)

    I was agreeing with #29, which as I understand this indicates the comment was directed towards Blake, but made by Mark.

    I am in full support of the currency analogy used in Elder Packer’s parable, “The Mediator” (or at least presented in his conference address of that name). I don’t see that any real work has been done to show that this is untenable, but rather I note that there are many who are offended by the idea for some reason that has not been made clear here and so refuse to take the parable at face value.

    I don’t think the verses being analyzed definitively settle the question. (Though I suppose that such a settling wasn’t the point.) I think Amulek was very clearly stating (much as Abinidi did) that the sacrifices of the mosaic law, and the mosaic law itself were not sufficient to save and that since individuals cannot satisfy justice in sacrificing themselves for one another, then the whole of creation would need to be atoned for. (Thus, it had to be an infinite atonement.)

    I think the reason that man cannot atone for man is that no man who might be said to willingly offer himself is not in moral debt already. I also think that it is not so much that Christ takes all our sins upon us and sets us free, but that he takes our sins upon himself and provides us with a new, actually feasible way to pay the debt whereas before there was nothing we could offer to the world that would make restitution.

    Clearly the Zoramites had a problem with thinking they could expect that Christ would save them without their ever having to “reimburse” him for his travails on their behalf.

    Also, clearly, we have nothing to offer the world which we daily hurt in full restitution for the things which we have done. So if we must forever owe the same entity what we clearly cannot give, we must remain lost forever. However, Christ has something to offer the world in order to make full restitution and Christ has something he wants from us which we can offer, and even suffer in so doing. Thus, through him, we can make restitution. There is no injustice in that.

    Comment by seanmcox — October 16, 2006 @ 3:13 pm

  49. seanmcox, My apologies, I read you wrong before, thanks for correcting me.

    It seems you are suggesting something very similar to the restitution-substitution theory that Mark was proposing in #27. As I said in #35, I think this is a much better theory than the penal-substitution theory. It is not without issues to resolve, but I have been trying to stay focused on penal-substitution here since that was the focus of the post and there are still people discussing that theory.

    You are incorrect in saying I am offended by “The Mediator.” I used it in the post as an example of a parable through which many members have come to understand the penal-substitution theory. As a parable, it leaves itself somewhat open to other interpretations, which I am open to. That said, I disagree with your assertion that the plain reading of that parable is the one you have suggested. It might be a fine interpretation, but in my experience it is not even close to the majority interpretation. Stories like “He Took My Lickin’ For Me” which were also related in general conference attest to the fact that not everyone is understanding the atonement as you have described it. So, I haven’t tried to poke any holes in your theory. I was only objecting to The Mediator when used as a parable about penal-substitution.

    Comment by Jacob — October 16, 2006 @ 3:26 pm

  50. Jacob #38 (and Geoff J. #33, and Mark Butler’s reparation/restitution view): He does use “atone” in a payment sort of way, but only to argue that this is not how the real atonement works, so I don’t think that is a good argument for the text supporting penal-substitution.

    Amulek describes a just law, which I think should serve as the basis for understanding what he meant by the term justice. Acorrding to Amulek, a murderer that is killed for killing someone else is just (34:11-12). Under a penal-substitution view, I think this makes sense. Under a reparation view (a la Mark Butler and Ed), I don’t see how this is just. How does killing a murderer atone for a murder if not “paying justice”? It seems the reparation view is based on preventing the murderer from murdering again—is that right? But then why not just incapacitate the murderer, or lock him up? Perhaps it is simply my own lack of creativity in answering this question that points me toward penal-substitution. It seems that, according to Amulek’s description of justice, two wrongs indeed make a right. Regardless of the theological complications this presents, I still don’t see how to get around this retributionary reading.

    I have been stressing the “bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance” from verse 15, because I believe repentance is what enables mercy to overpower justice.

    I don’t think the penal-substitution reading has any problem explaining Amulek’s emphasis on repentance: without a way to pay-off justice (meet the demands of the “punishment affixed” a la chapters 41-42, and I think Amulek’s view of justice is somehow allowing this punishment to be carried out via an infinite-substition-allowing sacrifice which seems to be left as a bit of a mystery), there would not be any hope for being saved, so there would be not motivation—no reason to have faith—to repent. But Christ’s sacrifice gives us a way that our first sin won’t eternally damn us but will be atoned/paid for (“washed clean” in Alma’s metaphor). I do think that 34:16 is explaining that we need to have faith “unto repentance” in order to effect the substitionary nature of Christ’s sacrifice (that is, by turning to Christ in repentance, we will effectively be labeled as “paid for by Him” and thus escape the retributionary demands of justice—or something like this, I’m just trying to give a sketch of how a penal-substitution reading could be reconciled with an emphasis on repentance).

    I still don’t see how the word whole in 34:16 can be explained under a non-penal-substitution-flavored view. If justice simply requires that I become a good person before justice has a shot at me, how is this not simply letting the justice have full sway over me? Sure, justice is delayed, but I don’t see why this couldn’t/wouldn’t just be described as a delayed exposure “to the whole law of the demands of justice.” In fact, I think the whole thrust of verse 16 is difficult to account for if the atonement is simply helping us to prepare for the judgment of justice:

    And thus amercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption. (Alma 34:16)

    As I said, if the atonement is “only” about preparing me for judgment, then why would Amulek contrast one who is encircled in the arms of mercy with someone who is exposed to the “whole law of the demands of justice”? The penal-substitution theory, on the other hand, seems to offer a very natural explanation of this verse: by “taking the licking” for our previous sins, Christ has made it possible for us to be only exposed to part of the law of justice—that is, we still have to repent and turn to Christ, and part of the atonement is also helping us find the way of righteousness, but the “paying for” connotation of the word atonement (suggested in v. 11) seems to be corroborated by the contrasting predicament of the non-repentant who is exposed to the whole law of justice….

    (If this sounds curt, it’s mainly b/c I’m in a hurry—I’ve very much enjoyed your carefully written responses. For the record, I’ve gone from playing devil’s advocate to believing that there are difficulties on either reading that need to be worked through. I personally favor a more agnostic/atheological reading: the atonement satisfies justice in a way that is somewhat similar to the way justice is satisfied when a murderer is killed, but the infinite/divine nature of Christ’s sacrifice satisfies justice in a manner, not clearly specified, that gives us the opportunity—and the means—to repent….)

    Comment by Robert C. — October 16, 2006 @ 5:55 pm

  51. Jacob (#49)
    I think that if you would read carefully, I never suggested that you were offended by “The Mediator” specifically, but rather I suggested that there are those who dislike it due to the currency analogy, and since I see no foundation for the rejection of that analogy, (it has not been made apparent that it offends reason) it is only natural to conclude that it offends in a way that has not been made apparent. (and I expect has not been identified properly)

    In any case, you made two critiques of “The Mediator”. The second was too superfluous for me to consider. Since, strictly speaking, “The Mediator” does not teach penal substitution, (clearly the parable emphasizes the continuity of the debtor’s obligation to make a restitution) I think the effort made to critique it was probably a bit of a distraction from the main idea you were trying to get across, but since you chose to do so, it opened the topic of discussion a little wider than you apparently intended. Hence my comments that weren’t focused on penal substitution and since you have made it clear that you would like people to stay on the topic of penal-substitution theory and I have no intention of debating with people playing devil’s advocate, I shall steer clear of adding my off topic thoughts in the future. I am very sorry.

    Considering I did not suggest a plain reading of any parable, I don’t know what you mean, and you seem to be attacking an appeal to authority that I never made, nor intended, except that I do appeal somewhat to the authority and wisdom of Elder Packer, but only inasmuch as I think that if there’s no good reason to criticize his use of the currency analogy, then the effort best not be made. (and it was my assertion that it was being disputed with no foundation)

    Comment by seanmcox — October 17, 2006 @ 12:09 am

  52. Wow Jacob, it’s gotten a little tense “around here” (I love using terms like “around here” to describe virtual space.)

    Anyway, I’d love your thoughts on the creditor being the sinned against.

    Also, I was trying to reinterpret the “took my licking” story, and came up with some interesting thoughts. Not doctrine, mind you, but thoughts.

    1. Teacher comes in to class in trouble. -No one is progressing spiritually, Heavenly Father comes to assist.
    2. Teacher asks the class to set up some rules so that all will be fair. -Council in Heaven? Is it possible that even as we participated in the creation of the world, we participated in the establishment of rules. It is natural (positivist?) to assume we participate in establishing what is and is not just.
    3. Student violates rule based on his perceived need. – We sin based on our perceived needs. This reminds me of a Spencer W. Kimball Quote.
    4. Other Students see the weakness and frailty of this student and that their rules are in truth not just. However, they no longer have the capacity to change the rules without destroying what they have done and starting over from scrath.- This would be where there is still a need for understanding for me. Why couldn’t the Teacher correct course at this point? Or was the Teacher also struggling to keep the rules when the boy stepped in?
    5. Boy steps in to take the whipping for him. -the atonement.
    6. The Sinner loves the Boy who saved him. – this is the primary correlation to the atonement for me. We love (or ought to love) the Lord because he already gave us a capacity to overcome our problems we did not otherwise have. The Letters of John say “we love him because he first loved us.” This is where the story resonates.

    Anyway, just thinking.

    Comment by Matt Witten — October 17, 2006 @ 7:09 am

  53. Robert: You are right that punishing a murderer for his murder is incompatible with mere reparation. He is put to death because he is responsible and deserves it under this theory of penal or retributive justice (which I believe Jacob rejects if I’m not not wrong). However, it is not consistent with penal substitution. In that theory, someone other than the murderer is punished for the murder. That isn’t just on any theory of justice. That simple fact is inconsistent with your theory of atonement. Because Alma says that retributive justice is just; but substitutive (in)justice is not just, he looks for another way to describe and explain atonement — and it is quite enough to sink it.

    Once again, there is no sense of Christ’s suffering paying for or acting as a medium of currency exchange for our sins in Alma 34 and 41-42. Isn’t it pellucidly clear that God’s justice consists in staying the sentence of the punishment he has declared (death) and placing us on probation to give us a time to repent? Thus, the atonement gives us time to repent and make a choice. Isn’t it also clear that God’s mercy consists in his placing us on probation rather than executing judgment immediately so that we have no space for repentance? These judicial metaphors are backed up with how it applies in the case of Adam and Eve. Alma has a much better theory than the carcatures of his views that are commonly spouted here and elsewhere (whatever that means in virtual space).

    Comment by Blake — October 17, 2006 @ 7:46 am

  54. Matt: I have grave concerns re: both 4 and 5 of the “take a beating” story. The rules aren’t just. The teacher is unjust and his employment would be terminated for cause in any school district where the teacher acted in this way. It makes the Father unjust and stupid by metaphorical comparison. Worse, how does the boy taking a beating relate to forgiveness of sins? The sin is not forgiven but punished. Worse, it doesn’t explain at all how such a beating is necessary or even helpful to forgiveness of sins — it certainly isn’t necessary as a means of forgiveness of sins. The purpose of atonement is in fact love, but 4 and 5 are the negation and not the affirmation of love. I say look for a different story.

    Comment by Blake — October 17, 2006 @ 7:53 am

  55. Blake:

    When I said “This would be where there is still a need for understanding for me.” that was my inept attempt to express what you have said. The issue for me with the story is that in the modern world, Paddling is child abuse. No matter how hard I try, I can’t get my mind around that obstacle and see paddling from an older perspective. My thoughts above were an effort to do so, nothing more.

    If you really want to address some of my concerns, please see my comments on # 43 here or comments #55 and #56 on Jacob’s atonement theory post.

    I haven’t read you books yet, but am intending to when budget permits (and after I finish rough stone rolling)

    Comment by Matt Witten — October 17, 2006 @ 8:20 am

  56. I wrote a few thoughts about my conception of the currency of the Spirit, and the way it differs from temporal currency over here:\_of\_enterprise

    If it isn’t apparent, I conceive of the building up of Zion, the holy city, the general assembly, and church of the Firstborn [1], and the At-one-ment in comparable terms. The Atonement is the sum of everything that needs to be done to establish Zion, to become a society of one heart and one mind [2]. Zion is the pure in heart [2].

    Now can Zion be established without punishing crimes against society? No. And having someone else bear such a penalty is pointless. If a person truly repents, no such penalty needs to be borne at all. Having others share the cost of restitution (for sin, injury, illness, etc.) that we may all be made whole, on the other hand, is much of what Zion is all about. Mourn with those that mourn, comfort those that stand in need of comfort, bear one another’s burdens that the may be made light [4], minister unto the poor and the needy and the sick in their afflictions, and so on.

    [1] Heb 12:23
    [2] Moses 7:18
    [3] D&C 97:21
    [4] Mosiah 18:8-10

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 17, 2006 @ 8:44 am

  57. All,

    Anyone interested in downloading and reading Jacob’s paper on the atonement can do so now here.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 17, 2006 @ 9:13 am

  58. Paul explicitly seems to embrace some kind of substitution theory in Gal. 3:13, in which the covenantal curse falls upon Jesus instead of us. His death thus fulfills the old covenant by receiving its curse and is the sacrificial offering that inaugurates the new covenant. The problem with most of the theories tossed around is that they seem to detached from and don’t interact with the covenantal/sacrificial system of the OT and NT.

    I’m curious how that enters in the rest of the conversation here.

    Comment by Ben — October 17, 2006 @ 9:18 am

  59. seanmcox,

    I seem to have frustrated you with my thickheadedness, for which I apologize again. I did talk about “The Mediator” at length in the post, so I am not trying to say your comments are off topic, just that I didn’t want to take it to the next level by debating the restitution reading on its merits (since I fear it would prevent us from bottoming out on some of the penal-substitution debates already in progress). I appreciate your comments in defense of the parable and hope you’ll continue to post here, as you seem to have insightful things to add.

    Comment by Jacob — October 17, 2006 @ 9:32 am

  60. Ben,

    Most theology is very detached from the OT/NT. That’s why there a branch of theology called “Biblical Theology.” It’s a feature not a bug. There are reasons for this, which I would like to explore with Geoff at some point. For one thing, there’s a lot of diversity in both sides of the canon that can really dismay folks who are into theories. That stuff in Paul isn’t a theory, it’s metaphor. Theologians make theory out of it, when they use it…

    We love theologians, anyway! Nice, chaste Mogget kisses to all of you.

    Geoff J,

    Dude! Are you ignoring my email?


    Comment by Mogget — October 17, 2006 @ 9:55 am

  61. Robert (#50), Blake (#53),

    He is put to death because he is responsible and deserves it under this theory of penal or retributive justice (which I believe Jacob rejects if I’m not not wrong). (Blake #53)

    Responding to this will also allow me to clarify my own take on the arguments Robert is making with respect to Alma 34:16. I do believe in retributive justice, I just think it was created by God (as opposed to the law of the harvest which was not) to keep us in touch with the ultimate consequences of our actions during this probationary period in which those ultimate consequences have been suspended from immediate execution (as Blake has been arguing). So, I don’t think retributive justice is an unavoidable law of the universe. It is the part of justice which we can avoid the full extent of by repenting. I find this view to be stated quite clearly by Alma:

    16 Now, repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment, which also was eternal as the life of the soul should be, affixed opposite to the plan of happiness, which was as eternal also as the life of the soul.
    17 Now, how could a man repent except he should sin? How could he sin if there was no law? How could there be a law save there was a punishment?
    18 Now, there was a punishment affixed, and a just law given, which brought remorse of conscience unto man.
    19 Now, if there was no law given-if a man murdered he should die-would he be afraid he would die if he should murder?
    20 And also, if there was no law given against sin men would not be afraid to sin.
    21 And if there was no law given, if men sinned what could justice do, or mercy either, for they would have no claim upon the creature?
    22 But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.

    First, notice that retributive justice, described in 16 and 17, is based on a functional need for such a law. That is in stark contrast to the way the law of the harvest is described in Alma 41 and D&C 88. That is, retributive justice is put in place by God to serve a purpose. Law of the harvest justice is just part of the universe and God can’t get around it any more than we can.

    Second, notice that in 19 this form of justice is explicitely connected to the law that if a man murders he should die (the precise example Amulek referred to).

    Third, notice that verse 20 says without this law men would not fear sin. Why wouldn’t they fear sin? Because in the probationary period, described in verses 4-7 of the same chapter, the ultimate consequences of those sins were put on hold. The must have something in the mean time, and these verses are explaining that this is where retributive justice fits into the picture.

    Forth, notice that at the same time this form of justice was put in place, there was a “repentance granted,” “which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law.” Now, this is exactly what Alma 34:16 is referring to. This is how mercy overpowers justice. Mercy claims the creature if they repent and gets the penitent out of the full execution of retributive justice because at that point retributive justice has served its purpose and the “eternal” (vs 16) punishment affixed by retributive justice need not be fully executed. If they don’t repent, then justice has the claim and executes the full law of retributive justice. All the while, the law of the harvest is unavoidable and inescapable.

    Lastly, I would point out again that repentance is said to be playing the crucial role in mercy having sway over justice. It says nothing about the atonement “paying off” justice. That is why Amulek stresses the fact that the atonement brought about the means of repentance. Notice that the next verses in Alma 42 actually do descibe how justice is still satisfied (and it is not by inflicting suffering on a substitute!)

    23 But God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice.
    24 For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved.
    25 What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God.

    Justice is fully satisfied because men are brought back into the presence of God to be judged according to their works. Remember the context from Alma 42:4-7! This is the justice which was postponed during the probationary time. This is justice as the law of the harvest which Alma described in chapter 41. Justice is not fully satisfied by inflicting punishment on Christ (that would be retributive justice, the temporary version of justice which is overcome by mercy when we repent). Rather, it is justice as the law of the harvest that is fully satisfied because the probation ends and the inevitable justice of deserts is implemented in the final judgment.

    Comment by Jacob — October 17, 2006 @ 10:15 am

  62. Hi Jacob, I am new to reading any of your articles. I am not LDS so please direct me elsewhere if my entering the discussion is not appropriate to this blog.

    I just started a study in the Gospel of John. What would be your take on “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.”


    And btw, feel free to post any comment on my simple blog. I have lots of questions.

    Comment by Todd Wood — October 17, 2006 @ 12:25 pm

  63. Hi Todd,

    Of course it is fine for you jump in here, glad you did. As far as this verse from John goes, it is a great verse, but is not likely to lock someone down into certain view of the atonement since it is fairly vague (allowing for many interpretations of how Christ takes away the sins of the world) and there is not much immediate context. In my view, the sins of the world can only be taken away within the constraints of free will. Also, sin is not the kind of thing that is taken away on the back of a truck. Rather, the sins of the world are taken away as people repent (freely choose to change) and become new creatures in Christ. I view Christ’s atonement as playing a central role in making it possible for us to repent as well as in helping us and encouraging us to repent.

    Some other people here may have a different take. To be sure, there are people who post here who are more expert on the Gospel of John than I am.

    By the way, I am not a scholar by profession (I am an electrical engineer) and the paper Geoff mentioned a few comments back is the only paper I have ever published. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. There are real scholars who roam these parts; I don’t pretend to be one, I just like discussing this stuff.

    Comment by Jacob — October 17, 2006 @ 12:55 pm

  64. Matt,

    In response to your 3a from #43, hopefully my #61 helps to explain why I have divided justice as I have. I am trying to take my lead from Alma, who seems to be dividing justice as I did in my paper. You said:

    Thus punitive justice’s suffering falls in this category [Consequence Justice] (#43)

    I think is important to split out the consequences. The ultimate consequence of sin is isolation and estrangement from God. In this life, we have a punitive justice in place which inflicts punishment for sin. It is also very important to note that I am intentionally avoiding talking about how justice must be administered in by us in our current state. Doing that would require lots of distinctions and allowances for protecting society despite our epistemic limitations, and so on. I have tried to simplify things by only talking about justice as administered by God or the universe.

    Comment by Jacob — October 17, 2006 @ 1:22 pm

  65. Jacob:
    Even if we hold to the concept of a natural justice (one where true justice is eternal) and not a positivist justice (where we subconciously decide what is and is not just), I guess my idea has been that the consequence of our isolation and estrangement from God is caused by us and not God. I am not reading your mind, but I feel like you are saying this punishment is caused by God.

    Comment by Matt Witten — October 17, 2006 @ 2:02 pm

  66. Matt (#65),

    I am agreeing with you that the estrangement is the natural result of our continuing in sin (for which we are responsible). From Alma 42, I am arguing that we have been given a state of probation in which the immediate execution of justice has been suspended, so we can sin without immediately being banished (a space granted for repentance). During this time, punitive justice was put in place by God (and a punishment affixed etc.) which causes us remorse of conscience (suffering) for sin. The purpose of punitive justice is to keep us in touch with the eventual consequence of sin. I’m still not sure I understand where our disconnect is, but does that help?

    Comment by Jacob — October 17, 2006 @ 4:05 pm

  67. Ok, I need to find time to finish your article! The Short of it is, you hypothesize that via divine infusion from the power of the atonement, we are given the light of Christ, an inate sense of right and wrong. Isn’t this then the cause of our punishment, and not our relief from it if the punishment is remorse of conscience?

    I have follow-up questions, but will hold for clarification. I am working on a paper for Business Law, otherwise I’d just read your paper now and get clear for myself… :)

    Comment by Matt Witten — October 17, 2006 @ 5:04 pm

  68. Matt (#65),

    Although some parts of of what might be termed punitive justice (remorse, etc.) are certainly hard wired into our own bodies, normally the term refers to the measures that God takes to deter sin. The most common measure by far is he withdraws his Spirit, by degrees. Or witholds blessings that non-sinners otherwise qualify for (classic example is rain).

    The withdrawal of those blessings often cause the wicked to punish themselves – talents dissapear, gifts dry up, they become vulnerable to strange spirits and strange ideas, and so on, and the consequences of those things means whatever they do never quite measures up to the work of the truly inspired.

    The most serious kind of retributive justice is reserved for extraordinary sins – the sort of things people are normally put in jail for. Fire from heaven is the classic example. There are sins worthy of death – not just spiritual death, but physical death as well. When a person or a society ripens sufficiently in iniquity, the Lord will sometimes forcibly transfer them to the spirit world, because they are not fulfilling the measure of their creation, and show no hope of reformation in this life. Sodom, Babylon, Ammonihah, Rome, … the means vary, but the effect is the same.

    That is the most serious form of divine retribution, though one can conceive of lesser measures. Here is a typical scripture:

    Wherefore, all those who are proud, and that do wickedly, the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, for they shall be as stubble.

    And they that kill the prophets, and the saints, the depths of the earth shall swallow them up, saith the Lord of Hosts; and mountains shall cover them, and whirlwinds shall carry them away, and buildings shall fall upon them and crush them to pieces and grind them to powder.

    And they shall be visited with thunderings, and lightnings, and earthquakes, and all manner of destructions, for the fire of the anger of the Lord shall be kindled against them, and they shall be as stubble, and the day that cometh shall consume them, saith the Lord of Hosts.
    (2 Ne 26:5-7)

    Now suppose a city (e.g. Nineveh) turns from its iniquity and repents in sackcloth and ashes. Does that mean that the Lord has to suffer that punishment after the fact? That doesn’t make any sense. What does make sense is the Lord has been suffering the consequences of the sin of the city from the beginning, and as soon as they repent, that is the effective end of his suffering pertaining to them (until they start to sin again of course).

    But if they do not repent, eventually the cup of the Lord’s wrath is full (according to the suffering they have inflicted on him with no sign of improvement) and he sets retributive measures in action, (after fair warning), preferably measures just serious enough to persuade them to repent, or at least to cease the worst of their iniquities. So it seems that the only purposes of retributive judgment are reformation (the hard way) and deterrence. There is no need for the Lord to suffer any more than he already has in such cases.

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 17, 2006 @ 5:22 pm

  69. Mark, I don’t think we are on the same page, but thanks for the impressive display. This will be my first time being “Mark Butlered”

    Please keep in mind that as I see it, the substitution theory means that Christ can aid the sinner to be able to repent, and he can aid the sinned against from taking offense. The end result, as I see it is that man is MORE free to choose good or evil for himself.

    Anyway, since you brought up retribution justice, I’ll throw you a bone. I have read, and agree, that the point of retributive justice is not reformation or deterrance. Did Noah need to be reformed or deterred? Did his sons. No, the wide spread death was only to protect the survivors from contamination from the wicked, and to remove the wicked from their enslaved state.

    Oop, I’m at my three paragraph limit…

    Comment by Matt Witten — October 17, 2006 @ 5:55 pm

  70. Matt,

    I am not sure what your complaint is. I am also not sure why you have the word “not” in the sentence beginning “I have read”. There may be other substitution theories, but the main topic here is the penal (or penalty substitution theory. Any active penalty (where harm is inflicted) is retribution.

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 17, 2006 @ 6:00 pm

  71. AS for the not, what I meant was, I have read a text by a general authority that Iam trying to look up currently in Gospel Link but can’ find, and I agree with it, that the point of retributibe judgement is not…

    Hope that clears it up.

    I don’t have a complaint either, if that helps, I’m just bouncing around ideas and concerns. As far as any penalty being retribution, I’m not sure I agree. If you trip and fall, the penalty may be a skinned knee. I don’t see that as retribution. The Penalty for working through lunch is being hungry all afternoon, etc…

    Comment by Matt Witten — October 17, 2006 @ 6:25 pm

  72. Matt,

    I agree that there are colloquial senses of the term that are far more vague. However, to keep everything from turning into a horrible muddle, it is often convenient to use terms only in their core or originary senses. If we check the definition of penalty here:

    we see that the first four definitions from the Random House Unabridged Dictionary are all punitive in nature. We would find the same if we checked a legal dictionary. Only the fifth definition is the colloquial one – an untoward consequence of any kind.

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 17, 2006 @ 6:51 pm

  73. Matt (#67),

    Isn’t this then the cause of our punishment, and not our relief from it if the punishment is remorse of conscience?

    I think Mark is on to something in #68 when he says that the most common punitive measure in the spiritual realm is the withdrawl of the spirit. So, yes, the light of Christ as the source of conscience can be said to be the cause of our punishment in the sense that it is because of conscience that we feel badly when we sin. We feel badly when light is withdrawn and when we are further distanced from God.

    However, God’s light is obviously a great blessing to us. It makes us feel good when we do right just as much as it makes us feel bad when we do wrong. It becomes our glory as we progress in it. “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24). By contrast, when Christ told Joseph Smith about the terrible suffering which awaits the unrepentant, he said Joseph had gotten a tiny taste of it “at the time I withdrew my Spirit” (D&C 19:20). So, you’ll have to ask one of your follow-up questions so I can see what you are getting at with that question.

    Comment by Jacob — October 17, 2006 @ 10:40 pm

  74. Ben #58 (& Mogget #60): I think Gal 3:13 is a fascinating verse (and a good one to explore in terms of systematic theology vs. Biblical theology and the covenantal development in the Bible)—if you follow the Feast wiki, I’ll definitely explore this there sometime in the next week or two.

    Jaocb #61 (and Blake #53): This idea of two levels of justice makes your reading a lot more plausible (or at least less objectionable/strained) in my mind–thanks for explaining that. I think we’re basically agreed that Amulek is talking about some form of retributive justice, but that this view of justice isn’t sufficient to explain the Atonement b/c of the substitutionary aspect involved. I think a penal-substitution reading is one of several possible readings, including a two-types-of-justice reading—I’m less confident/opinionated about exactly what Amulek’s purpose is for discussing an infinite atonement and how/why this makes it so that we are not exposed to the whole law.

    I think we’re also agreed that Alma is emphasizing a law-of-the-harvest view of justice that is seems to be getting at something different (or at least more) than a penal-substition theory supplies.

    Comment by Robert C. — October 18, 2006 @ 1:53 am

  75. Mark: (72)
    I’ll have to do some reading on this and get back with you, but Definition 5 still seems to be where my paradigm is. Maybe I’m just 29 and thus the child of the hippy generation.

    ok, that being clarified, I have two concerns with DI theory, and some questions on Light of Christ.

    1. If the DI theory is putting some sort of external force into us which rewards us for good and punishes us for bad, isn’t the atonement limiting our freedom as opposed to increasing it, as the scriptures say. A possible correction is that the remorse or self-deception follow the event(the sin) is a natural consequence and the light of christ is merely the pre-event sense of right and wrong. But this brings up my next concern.

    2. What about people with mental disorders who feel no remorse for wrong doing, etc. I once knew of an 8 year child who killed his brother and acted as if nothing was wrong with that. He was very emotionally disturbed. It was really sad. Is the atonement failing in it’s infinity? Would this be where the atonement covers those who have no law given? And if so, how does that work in your theory?

    Also, I am getting confused on light of christ, holy ghost, and gift of holy ghost confusion. Does the light of Christ withdraw, or do we just learn to ignore it?

    Comment by Matt W. — October 18, 2006 @ 7:01 am

  76. Robert C (#74),

    I’m glad the two-types-of-justice seems more plausible to you. Quite seriously, I got the idea from Alma. I should say that although Blake and I have been agreeing on many points during this discussion, I have never heard him endorse my two-types-of-justice reading of Alma 34 and 42. I don’t want him to suffer guilt by association.

    I’m less confident/opinionated about exactly what Amulek’s purpose is for discussing an infinite atonement.

    Especially in light of Alma 34:2, I think that Alma 34:8-10 is drawing on much of what had been said previously in the Book of Mormon about the atonement (which is why it makes such a good scripture mastery passage). You can trace back many of the phrases he uses to Jacob, King Benjamin, and Abinadi. I think the “infinite atonement” is coming from 2 Ne 9:7, by which I mean to say that I don’t think Amulek would have used that language except that he was building on what had been said by Jacob.

    Comment by Jacob — October 18, 2006 @ 10:05 am

  77. Matt (#75),

    If the DI theory is putting some sort of external force into us which rewards us for good and punishes us for bad, isn’t the atonement limiting our freedom as opposed to increasing it, as the scriptures say.

    You’ll have to explain why this strikes you as making us less free as opposed to expanding our freedom. Notice that Lehi says “man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other” (2 Ne. 2:16). There is a section on agency in my paper which discusses this topic, but I don’t want to repeat myself if that didn’t help, so here is another thought which might be applicable.

    One of the main points in 2 Ne 2 seems to be that sin brings bondage whereas salvation is an expansion of freedom. (Choose liberty and eternal life or captivity and death, verse 27). This idea makes sense to me for the same reason it makes sense to me that anarchy is not synonymous with freedom. Our freedom increases when we gain more power and enlarge our sphere of influence. We are more free in a celestial society than we are if we are banished to outerdarkness. As we learned from SpiderMan, with great power comes great responsibility. The end of D&C 121 states this in a most impressive way. Recall that the reason few are chosen is that they fail to learn this one lesson: “that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness” (D&C 121:36). Without a knowledge of the moral law and help in becoming moral beings, we could never really be free. Parents who teach their children to be law abiding (through rules and punishments) are helping them lead their adult lives in freedom instead of in a jail cell, despite those rules which seem to limit their freedom.

    Comment by Jacob — October 18, 2006 @ 10:34 am

  78. Both, it partially withdraws [1] (completely in some cases [2]), and we become less sensitive to it [3] as we withdraw from it ourselves [4]. The Lord said draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you [5]. If we seek him diligently, we will find him [6].

    It is worth noting that one of the reasons why the Spirit withdraws (by degrees) from the wicked is the Lord (and all those who participate in his Spirit) is pained by the aquaintance [7].

    [1] Hel 6:35
    [2] Alma 34:45
    [3] 1 Ne 17:45
    [4] Mosiah 2:36
    [5] D&C 88:63
    [6] Deut 4:29; Prov 8:17
    [7] Moses 7:28,37; 1 Ne 17:47; Mosiah 25:11, etc.

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 18, 2006 @ 10:46 am

  79. Jacob (77) Ok, here is how I am interptretting your previous response (73), first of all.

    When we do something good, we get rewarded with a good feeling via the light of christ, when we do something bad, we are punished with a bad feeling via the light of Christ. Thus, like Pavlov’s Dogs, we ought to salivate to do good, and shirk evil. This all seems a little too “clock work orange” to me. (If it is socially acceptable in Mormon Circles to admit I watched that movie before I joined the church, which is a really EVIL movie. I do NOT recommend it. A good Mormon version is a Science Fiction book by the man who wrote Work and Glory, called the alliance, I think. To complete the tangent, I;ve never read W&G, but was amused that a current GA had written a science fiction novel and gave it a try; this was a good book.) In other words, if we are forced to be good by some sort of outside influence, ie- the light of Christ, it is worse than not being good.

    I will read through your paper more later today. Sorry for getting ahead of myself.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 18, 2006 @ 10:53 am

  80. Mark, my concern is that by this reasoning, we should hate the sinner, and not the sin…

    Comment by Matt W. — October 18, 2006 @ 10:55 am

  81. Matt,

    Clockwork Orange — lol. I guess I have never thought about it like that. There are a couple of big differences. One is that we are enticed in both directions. Don’t forget D&C 29:39: “And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves.” The salivation by Pavlov’s dogs was an involutary response, which is very different than our choices to do good or do evil. Are you saying that the existence of consequences (good and bad) to our actions prevents us from having free will?

    if we are forced to be good by some sort of outside influence, ie- the light of Christ, it is worse than not being good.

    I would never suggest we are being forced to do something by the light of Christ. Does your conscience force you to do things? Obviously not. Yet you do have a conscience, right? And it does behave in the way you described in #79, right? I don’t know how you come to the conclusion you do given that you experience these things and have first hand insight into how they work together. Perhaps some more introspection on how you relate to your conscience is in order.

    Comment by Jacob — October 18, 2006 @ 11:18 am

  82. Matt (#80) Mark (#78),

    I agree with what Mark said. I don’t see how it follows that we should hate the sinner and not the sin. Please elaborate.

    Comment by Jacob — October 18, 2006 @ 11:19 am

  83. Jacob #76: Yes, I noticed Blake has a different view than your two-justice view, but I need to go back and read a bit to be more clear on the differences….

    To better understand your view of justice, would you mind explaining (or referring me to a place in your paper or a particular blog thread) how you understand the atonement and justice for little children? In particular, I’m trying to understand 2 Ne 9:25-26 which I can see as (possibly) having 2 different notions of justice in mind:

    25 Wherefore, he has given a law; and where there is no law given there is no punishment; and where there is no punishment there is no condemnation;

    It seems here if there is no condemnation, there is no need for atonement or mercy . . . unless the “no condemnation” state is possible only b/c of the atonement and mercy.

    and where there is no condemnation the mercies of the Holy One of Israel have claim upon them, because of the atonement; for they are delivered by the power of him.

    Indeed, here we see that the “no condemnation” state is a result of the atonement. This is where the penal-substition view says that this part of justice is “paid for” by Christ. I’m less clear on how you understand this.

    26 For the atonement satisfieth the demands of his justice upon all those who have not the law given to them.

    What are the demands of justice if there is no condemnation? Is this an ignorance-of-the-law-is-no-excuse type of situation, a la the law-of-the-harvest type of justice? That is, on your view of two justices, I’m guessing you would say that there is no condemnation according to the justice-in-this-life that God creates, but there is still law-of-the-harvest-justice to reckon with. Am I anywhere close to your view on this?

    Comment by Robert C. — October 18, 2006 @ 12:16 pm

  84. Ok, I misread Mark as saying we should withdraw, not that the spirit withdraws. My mistake.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 18, 2006 @ 1:13 pm

  85. Robert C. (#83),

    If I may comment, I believe to make sense of that passage we must consider the natural state of man prior to any law whatsoever (except that of his own body). There is certainly no legal condemnation, but there is certainly a natural condemnation. Man does not become miserable simply because God ordains a series of laws. It is only that a legal condemnation comes upon him for his disobedience in addition to the natural condemnation of chaos and death, or in other words the law of the jungle, the natural state of mankind without law.

    The legal condemnation upon man is designed to motivate him unto repentance, so that he can enjoy the blessings of a society sanctified through obedience to law, made one with all his brethren through the grace of Christ. The Lord does not need to enforce laws to make men miserable, they are condemned already by the natural consequences of actions that are contrary to that which he has ordained, and indeed part of their very nature. The only time he has to take severe action is when one person is injuring another – such persons are vulnerable to swift measures to put an end to the work of iniquity, according to the cry put up by the victims.

    Now verse 25 and 26 seem to me to be referring to children and others who are without law – the merits of the At-one-ment (the grace of God) covers their transgressions because they sinned in ignorance. In other words they suffer a natural condemnation, but not a legal one, and are redeemed from the natural condemnation (which is death, both temporal and spiritual) through the grace of God through his Son.

    The lust, sin, death cycle is not so much a manifestation of legal condemnation, as natural condemnation – many suffer in ignorance, not knowing where to look for redemption. The more severe punishment (or legal punishment) comes to those who transgress according to their own knowledge, coming out in open rebellion against God, crucifying Christ afresh. That is what verse 27 is referring to.

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 18, 2006 @ 1:25 pm

  86. Robert C (#83),

    On the “what does salvation mean?” thread I made a comment that sets some of the groundwork for how I understand these verses. You participated in that thread so you will likely recognize the comment, but here is the comment I am referring to. My main point in that comment was that BofM prophets did not know about the kingdoms of glory or salvation for the dead. That lack of understanding causes a problem. What are they to say about all those who die without a knowledge of the gospel? The idea that everyone who died without the gospel goes to hell is obviously objectionable. It seems to me that the blanket waiver in 2 Ne 9:25-26 for those who died without law is just a place-holder doctrine in lieu of the full doctrine of salvation for the dead. The real answer is that those who die without law will be taught the gospel and given a chance to accept it or reject it.

    So, I actually think verse 26 is incorrect from the standpoint of all that has been revealed since. It was the correct doctrine for Jacob to teach in 2 Ne 9, but it has since been supplanted by further light and knowledge. I think the ideas expressed by Mark’s (#85) are interesting as well but you can see I go a somewhat different direction in understanding what the verses ultimately mean.

    Comment by Jacob — October 18, 2006 @ 10:01 pm

  87. Matt W (more on #75),

    What about people with mental disorders

    As to mentally disabled people, we generally teach that if they don’t understand right from wrong they are not accountable for their actions, and they relate to the plan of salvation differently than we do while they are here on earth (i.e. they don’t need baptism). I don’t pretend to know all the details of how God deals with the mentally disable after they die, but obviously they will not be mentally disabled when they are resurrected and I assume the same principles of free will, choice, and accountability will apply to them in the afterlife as well.

    Also, I am getting confused on light of christ, holy ghost, and gift of holy ghost confusion.

    I understand all spiritual light to be of the same type. So, I see the distinction as being one of dispensation. The light of Christ is given to all men. It is not a different kind of light, it simply designates a portion of light we all receive though the grace of Christ. More light is available from the Holy Ghost as we respond to the light. Even more light is available through covenant (gift of the Holy Ghost). There is a full continuum of light. Just as we grow in light through obedience, “that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience” (D&C 93:39). So, I think of us as growing or shrinking in light, not merely learning to ignore light.

    Comment by Jacob — October 18, 2006 @ 10:51 pm

  88. Jacob:

    Thanks for the feedback. I am going to refrain from commenting further until I read your whole article. If you want to continue on any of my threads on previous concerns on PST, feel free, but before we talk more about divine infusion, I feel I owe you a full reading.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 19, 2006 @ 8:22 am

  89. Jacob, I haven’t read any of the thread except your comment to me. So I apologize for just interrupting again in the flow of conversation. But what would be your interpretation of John 1:13?


    Comment by Todd Wood — October 19, 2006 @ 12:05 pm

  90. If I may interject here is a nice scripture on what it means to be born of God (there are many others):

    And thus he was baptized, and the Spirit of God descended upon him, and thus he was born of the Spirit, and became quickened in the inner man.

    And he heard a voice out of heaven, saying: Thou art baptized with fire, and with the Holy Ghost. This is the record of the Father, and the Son, from henceforth and forever;

    And thou art after the order of him who was without beginning of days or end of years, from all eternity to all eternity. Behold, thou art one in me, a son of God; and thus may all become my sons. Amen.
    (Moses 6:65-69)

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 19, 2006 @ 4:59 pm

  91. Todd,

    Sorry, I don’t have anything particularly interesting to say about John 1:13. What is your take on it?

    Comment by Jacob — October 19, 2006 @ 5:42 pm

  92. Jacob, I just popped in. Hey, I will try to get back with you on this next week. Thanks for the interest.

    And by the way, not this Sunday, but next Sunday, I hope to share John 1:29-33 with my church family.

    Next week, I will reference your article in my blog. And yep, Jacob, there are various ways, evangelicals look at John 1:29. I will spell them out. Look for it, friend, and feel free to comment.

    Comment by Todd Wood — October 20, 2006 @ 11:00 pm

  93. Just now, I have linked you, Jacob, to my blog.

    Thinking of heart issues.

    Comment by Todd Wood — October 25, 2006 @ 3:19 pm

  94. While I find it impossible to keep up with you all, I did find this interesting from true to the fath under atonement, and thought it worth adding:
    “Eternal justice demands that the effects of the Fall remain and that we be punished for our own wrongdoings. Without the Atonement, spiritual and temporal death would place an impassable barrier between us and God. Because we cannot save ourselves from the Fall or from our own sins, we would be forever separated from our Heavenly Father, for “no unclean thing can dwell … in his presence” (Moses 6:57).

    The only way for us to be saved is for someone else to rescue us. We need someone who can satisfy the demands of justice-standing in our place to assume the burden of the Fall and to pay the price for our sins. Jesus Christ has always been the only one capable of making such a sacrifice.”

    Comment by Matt W. — October 27, 2006 @ 12:28 pm

  95. Matt,

    Notice the way that quote pulls a fast one:

    Eternal justice demands …that we be punished for our own wrongdoings.

    We need someone who can satisfy the demands of justice-standing in our place …to pay the price for our sins.

    If justice really demanded that we be punished for our own wrongdoings as the first line said, then it would not work to put someone in our place. The implication, which is glossed over in that quote, is that justice demands that someone suffer for our wrongdoings, but we don’t say it that way because then it is clearly an incorrect statement (We can all tell that justice does not merely demand suffering, any suffering. It demands suffering of the guilty party. Justice is fundamentally and inextricably linked to the idea of desert. It only demands suffering where suffering is deserved.)

    Now, to be fair, the statement doesn’t say just anyone can stand it, rather, it says that “Jesus Christ has always been the only one capable of making such a sacrifice.” Although we are accustomed to saying this, we don’t have any good explanation for why that would be true. What qualified Jesus to atone? It doesn’t help to say something like “because he was perfect” unless we follow up by saying why atoning required a perfect person. As I said in my paper, justice actually says that a perfect person is the least qualified person to suffer punishment. The perfect person is the only one not required to suffer according to justice. So you see, we have a standard line we say about the mechanics of the atonement, but we have done little to make sense of it. This is why I suggest the real atonement is not based on a principle of penal-substitution.

    Comment by Jacob — October 27, 2006 @ 2:00 pm

  96. The next section of the article goes over why Jesus was “the one and only”, but I wanted to address some other items you mentioned, and I’ll let you deal with the text on it’s reasoning of only one christ. (Which I didn’t really think about in context with tihs, but I think it may be something to take to the Blake/Butler discussion ya’ll are having.

    Anyway, I am beginning to feel that one of the amazing things about the atonement may be that Christ could actually stand in our place as us. Maybe this means Christ, as part of the atonement, literally becomes each of us through some sort of transubstantiation. (I’m not sure that’s the right word, but it is what comes to mind.) Maybe the analogy is more like that of a wedding(as is often alluded to in scripture), where through covenant we and Christ become one, and thus he takes upon him the problems of our newly bonded family. The key of course is that he is perfect, and so he can overcome the problems via his divinity, whereas we can not overcome via our corrupted state.

    Sorry, I don’t have time to get deeper, but I gotta get home.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 27, 2006 @ 2:34 pm

  97. Matt W.,

    The only ones with a right to make any demands are those injured through the sins of others, and his parents and advocates. They are the prosecution, which, like justice, has a male bias.

    The ones crying for mercy for sinners, include the sinner himself, petitioning for forgiveness, and his parents and advocates. They are the defense, which like mercy, has a female bias.

    The prosecution and the defense present their case before a judge, who may very well be a bishop or a stake president, or perhaps a common ancestor. The judge hears both arguments, makes a decision, which decision is executed accordingly according to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, and that order of the priesthood the judge serves in, and the bishopric he presides over, and the arm that executes his decisions, whether it be the right arm or the left, the right arm being male, and the left arm female, though both are engaged in the work of both justice and mercy, though not quite equivalently.

    This all happens on an ongoing basis in the heavens above as well as on earth – whenever a good reason there is for a suit or petition to be raised with the presiding authorities. Except the due to the doctrine of incorporation, and the law of forgiveness, the injured do not need to prosecute cases against others, that is a job for those who are appointed as officers of the court of the appropriate order of the priesthood. That is my understanding.

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 27, 2006 @ 2:59 pm

  98. Matt: Anyway, I am beginning to feel that one of the amazing things about the atonement may be that Christ could actually stand in our place as us. Maybe this means Christ, as part of the atonement, literally becomes each of us through some sort of transubstantiation.

    This is a pretty common avenue to pursue. Stephen Robinson talks about Jesus actually becoming guilty of our sins in order to pay for them. I wish you luck, but in my opinion that is a dead end road. It ends up amounting to throwing up your hands and saying the whole thing is mysterious.

    Comment by Jacob — October 27, 2006 @ 4:51 pm

  99. Mark Butler:
    Um, that’s not the way I see it, or I just don’t get what you are saying. I have to be honest though, I typically find you hard to read. No offense, it may just be a me thing, but sometihng about the way you type puts my brain to sleep. :) Anyway, that being confessed, The scriptures give me a somewhat different picture. Mosiah 2:

    [36] And now, I say unto you, my brethren, that after ye have known and have been taught all these things, if ye should transgress and go contrary to that which has been spoken, that ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in you to guide you in wisdom’s paths that ye may be blessed, prospered, and preserved —

    [37] I say unto you, that the man that doeth this, the same cometh out in open rebellion against God; therefore he listeth to obey the evil spirit, and becometh an enemy to all righteousness; therefore, the Lord has no place in him, for he dwelleth not in unholy temples.

    [38] Therefore if that man repenteth not, and remaineth and dieth an enemy to God, the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever.

    [39] And now I say unto you, that mercy hath no claim on that man; therefore his final doom is to endure a never-ending torment.

    ie- we condemn ourselves by our own failures.


    I’ve never read anything by robinson, to be honest. I feel there are too many scriptures pointing to a concept of christ as ransom, propitiation, etc to completely give up on Christ’s relationship with us. I am actually digging the “wedding theory” at the moment. As far as the “mystery” problem. I find it no less mysterious than empathy, divine infusion, moral influence, etc.

    I am still prone to thinking that the atonement did all of the above, and need not be help to a one or the other status.

    I guess I feel too many scriptures support some concept of substitution (or at least, divine inclusion) to through out the theory, and I still haven’t heard that compelling of an argument against subsitution.

    Comment by Matt Witten — October 28, 2006 @ 7:43 pm

  100. Matt,

    …to completely give up on Christ’s relationship with us.

    No one is giving up on Christ’s relationship with us. Not sure what you mean by that.

    I still haven’t heard that compelling of an argument against subsitution.

    If the fact that substitution is completely contrary to justice is not a compelling argument to you, then you are right, you have no reason to reconsider your theory. I must confess, I feel about like I would if we had just gotten done with a very long discussion of the problem of evil only to have you say “I still can’t tell what you’re so worried about, bad stuff happens, so what?”

    Comment by Jacob — October 28, 2006 @ 9:43 pm

  101. Sorry Jacob, for frustrating you. I chose my words unwisely.

    1. Giving up on Christ’s relationship with us should read giving up on Christ suffering for our sins for us.

    2. I have found Potter lacking. His problems with substitution were all created on an Apples and Oranges basis. You did better, but I still don’t feel your definition of justice quite nails it, and thus it seems to taint the whole of the picture. I am not saying the scriptures are inerrant, but I feel they point to Christ as a Sacrifice for our sins, the Lamb of God, etc, with too much clarity to ignore. If you can show that this sacrifice meant something else, I’d listen, but I’ve not seen such evidence. I don’t have time to pump out scriptures right now, but will provide, if you’d like. Gratefully, I am satisfied that the Church is large enough for both of our views.

    Comment by Matt Witten — October 29, 2006 @ 7:18 am

  102. Matt, I am grateful for that as well. If the church was not large enough, it would be my view, not yours, that would have to go.

    Comment by Jacob — October 29, 2006 @ 11:17 am

  103. Ok, so I think I can see where I am getting side tracked, and it may mean I am not an adherrant of penal-substitution. In 99, I quotes a scripture to Mark that shows my point of view on the judgment. It is Mosiah 2:38 “…the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord…” In my mind, I guess I don’t us as being punished for our sins. I see us as suffering for our sins. That said, Christ is not being punished for our sins, but is willing suffering with us to save us from our sins. I of course, don’t have a perfect seutup for this point of view, but it is my point of view, nontheless, which I think is the point of view which must be taken if one calls for “eternal Justice”.

    There are some major flaws in my reasoning. D&C 45 vs. 3-5 is a pretty strong proponent of christ deflecting punishment from our Father in Heaven:

    3 Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him-
    4 Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified;
    5 Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.

    Also, there are several scriptures which describe the lord chastening and blessing us, which proves at least in certain instances that there is a direct reward or punishment from the Lord.

    Anyway, I’d say I’m on shaky ground at best, but would love your thoguhts on the verses quoted, and how you would view them in the lense of devine infusion. These verses worry me as I agree with you on the empathy theory that the atonement can not be to repair a deficiency in Heavenly Father or Christ, but needs to be working on a deficiency in us. That deficiency, I would have thought to be our suffering in our sins and the sins of others; our imperfections, failures, doubts, fears, infirmities, pains etc. The atonement then is a removal of the flaxen chords which bind us down to damnation, whih we have crafted for ourselves.

    My point of view makes sense with the Old Testamnt idea of Yom Kippur, and Christ being the Mercy Seat and the lamb, but I am not quite at a clear window on this.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 30, 2006 @ 9:33 am

  104. Matt: I discuss this scripture at some length in ch. 6 of vol. 2. Put it in context. It really seems to me to be saying that because the Father loves us, he gave his Son as a gift and because the Father loves the Son he is moved by his son’s suffering. It need not imply that the angry Father wants to punish us while the Son must intervene to avert such anger and try to persuade the Father to turn away. Angry Father, loving Son. That is how it is often interpreted. However, I sugguest; loving Father, loving Son makes more sense in context and all around.

    Comment by Blake — October 30, 2006 @ 10:54 am

  105. Matt,

    You have described a pretty standard Satisfaction Theory version of those verses. I agree that they do appear to support such an idea. But I am persuaded by Blake’s arguments (as well as those of others) that while there is dramatic value to viewing the atonement in this way, I don’t think the reality of the situation has Jesus jumping in to calm down an enraged and punitive God the Father. I personally file Satisfaction theories along with Ransom theories — they have value when it comes to dramatic depictions of the atonement but aren’t descriptive of how such things really work.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 30, 2006 @ 11:58 am

  106. Matt: In my mind, I guess I don’t see us as being punished for our sins. I see us as suffering for our sins. That said, Christ is not being punished for our sins, but is willing suffering with us to save us from our sins.

    The first crack in the dam is beginning to appear. As you suspected, the statement above amounts to a rejection, albeit tentative, of the penal-substitution theory and sets you off on a road to settling into a different theory.

    The scripture in D&C 45 is a very good example of the way that the scriptures portray things from many perspectives and not always in an attempt to describe the metaphysics of the situation. As Blake said above (and argued excellently in his book), it is simply unworkable to take this scripture to mean that the Father is angry/vengeful while the Son is loving/merciful.

    Nevertheless, the verses are sort of strange. They don’t really imply penal-substitution because Jesus does not ask the Father to accept us because he has paid the penalty of sin. Rather, it is almost portraying something like Cleon Skousen’s theory except saying it is God who is swayed by Christ’s sacrifice instead of all the intelligences (as in Skousen). We have to ask ourselves, why are the sufferings of Christ persuasive to the Father? I don’t have a great answer for why it is portrayed this way in D&C 45, one of the fun things about the atonement is that the scriptures are not obviously univocal.

    Comment by Jacob — October 30, 2006 @ 12:26 pm

  107. True, Geoff, I thought first of Cleon, but they could be seen as part of a tradition of Satisfaction Theory instead. Interesting.

    Comment by Jacob — October 30, 2006 @ 12:29 pm

  108. Blake: Thanks for the input. I can only say so many times that your books are at the top of the list. Unfortunately, the budget doesn’t have the extra $50 in it for a little time yet, so you will have to be post christmas. Anyway, I agree that the LDS paradigm is definitely Loving God, Loving son, but there seem to be plenty of scriptures to support an Angry God, God’s Wrath concept as well, albeit out of what I would consider the normal paradigm.
    Geoff:I think Substitution Theory and Satisfaction theory seem to be only divided by semantics. Honor and Justice and satisfaction and substitution all seem so interchangeable.

    Jacob: I am glad we have been able to find where our block in communication has been. Now if we can push aside penal substitution as the issue, I woud love to contend that the mormon concept is much more generally in line with us suffering for our sins, than it is with us being punished for our sins. I definitely feel the entry I cited early from true to the faith is more in line with this concept, as well as the bible dictionary definition of atonement and the missionary lesson of atonement. I think penal substitution theory may only get in the way, in fact, of what we intuitively as latter-day saints believe, disabling us from correctly expressing our beliefs.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 30, 2006 @ 1:10 pm

  109. Well lookee there. Matt has come around to reject substitution theory. (And you are right Matt — penal substitution is a variation on and an offshoot of Satisfaction Theory.) Of course the next problem we face when we reject penal substitution becomes answering Blake’s assertion here:

    One of the hallmarks of the NT and Book of Mormon is that the suffering was necessary-we could not be foregiven without it. Why?

    Blake has his own answer to this question in his Compassion Theory of Atonement. I still plan to post in response to his question soon.

    I agree that we suffer for our sins until we repent too, BTW. And I concur with your idea that Christ suffers with us. I am just not convinced that he suffers in our place as penal substitution and Blake’s theory hold. (Though if it is so I would definitely take Blake’s version over penal substitution).

    Comment by Geoff J — October 30, 2006 @ 2:11 pm

  110. Matt: Penal substitution is the sine qua non of orthodoxy for evangelical Proestants. For instance, look at this link which argues that N.T. Wright is in fact an orthodox evangelical because he accepts penal substitution and would not be if he didn’t:

    Evangelicals see penal substitution as the essence of the gospel because it is closely tied to the Reformation view of imputed righteousness where Christ stands in our place so that God (in this context the Father) sees only Christ’s merits or righteousness rather than our sins when judging us. I suggest that such a system of imputed righteousness is also extremely problematic.

    Comment by Blake — October 30, 2006 @ 3:04 pm

  111. Geoff:

    Let me say I think I am not so much rejecting my position as I am discovering my position was never really penal-substitution to begin with, at least as defined here. I think we were all sort of talking around one another.

    So much as I can say so without yet reading his book, I think that Blake is absolutely correct. We would be deficient without Christ suffering for our sins. I think this is in part due to what Terry Warner and Arbinger Institute calls self-deception(where Christ acts as the catalyst to release us from the deterministic effects of self-deception. James Ferral goes in depth on this concept here.), and in part due to our requirements for faith and trust to work, which is that we needed Christ to literally go through worse than anything we’ve gone through to really have faith in him (Truman Madsen discusses this in an essay title “the suffering servant” which I have collected in a book called “The Redeemer” at home). I think it gives us the anchor we need for our faith (moral influence?) and it leaves us without excuse (empathy?) and it, like in the Old Testament’s Yom Kippur, gives us a way to leave our past and move forward with a fresh perspective, free to act and not be acted upon. (divine infusion?). Finally, as a convert, I feel there is something about allowing the atonement into my life that really was basically magical, for want of a better word. To ruin my credibility, maybe the sacharine loaded footprints in the sand analagy has more merit than we look down our noses at it to give. (Though I have learned from blogging that analogies are all deficient, too ambiguous…)

    Even with that last statement, I still think there is merit in the analysis of our covenant state with Christ, where much like in a wedding, the spouses take on one another’s names, reputation, debts, struggles, etc, so does christ take on us as we come into a covenant relationship with him.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 30, 2006 @ 3:13 pm

  112. Blake:

    Evangelicals see penal substitution as the essence of the gospel because it is closely tied to the Reformation view of imputed righteousness where Christ stands in our place so that God (in this context the Father) sees only Christ’s merits or righteousness rather than our sins when judging us. I suggest that such a system of imputed righteousness is also extremely problematic.

    This is exactly what D&C 45 sounds like when taken on it’s own. (Of course there are several God the Father = God the Son scriptures in the BOM, if taken on their own as well, so this is not that much of an issue)
    My Brain is done for the day, but I will look at the essay on Wright when I feel up to it. for now, I’m off to the zoo with my 3 year old.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 30, 2006 @ 3:18 pm

  113. Matt: You’ll pleased to note that I have a long chapter explaining the basis of sin in self-deception and draw on both Terry Warner and the Arbinger Insititute to do so.

    Comment by Blake — October 30, 2006 @ 3:43 pm

  114. Blake (#110): Thanks for the link, very interesting read.

    Comment by Jacob — October 30, 2006 @ 4:11 pm

  115. I ran into this today, and thought it was interesting to add another church’s take on some theories of atonement..

    Comment by Matt W. — October 31, 2006 @ 8:48 am

  116. Since I have brought it up here, I wanted to correct a statement I made. Boyd K. Packer never said: “Justice and Mercy are one and the Same.” Per his secratary, this must be a mormon myth as the transcript in question contains no such words. The People at the church archives are awesome. I wrote them and asked and they went and did all the work for me. Amazing.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 31, 2006 @ 2:34 pm

  117. Nice work Matt. (And I like the PPT link also.) So did you email or snail mail them?

    Comment by Geoff J — October 31, 2006 @ 2:40 pm

  118. I e-mailed them, they have a link on

    Comment by Matt W. — October 31, 2006 @ 2:53 pm

  119. Jacob, just saw your post, today. I offer up a weak excuse on my blog. Just chalk it up to being a redneck Idahoan. I will get back with you.

    Comment by Todd Wood — October 31, 2006 @ 4:31 pm