In recent decades, the church and academy have witnessed intense debates concerning the concept of penal substitution to describe Christ’s atoning sacrifice. A number of theologians, New Testament scholars, and authors of popular Christian literature have taken issue with the concept, claiming that it promotes bloody violence, glorifies suffering and death, and inevitably amounts to divine child abuse. On the other hand, others have defended penal substitution, arguing that the concept plays a pivotal role in classical Christian doctrine.
In this volume, world-renowned New Testament scholar Simon Gathercole offers an exegetical and historical defense of the traditional substitutionary view of the atonement. Gathercole provides critical analyses of various interpretations of the atonement and places New Testament teaching in its Old Testament and Greco-Roman contexts, demonstrating that the interpretation of atonement in the Pauline corpus must include the concept of penal substitution. Professors and students of New Testament and early Christianity, the history of Christian doctrine, and contemporary systematic theology will value this work.
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In this short exploratory study Simon Gathercole draws on a range of classical as well as biblical sources to argue that for Paul, at least, the notion of substitution remained central.
—N.T. Wright, research professor of New Testament and early Christianity, University of St. Andrews, Scotland
Can Christ’s work of atonement be substitutionary in nature? Though Reformation Protestantism has replied in the affirmative, much recent scholarship has tended to have a negative view of this atonement motif. Simon Gathercole is to be congratulated for intervening in this debate with a short, clear, and lively book that argues the case for a substitutionary motif from a biblical perspective, and with an eye to both the Christian tradition and recent debates in the literature.
—Oliver D. Crisp, professor of systematic theology, Fuller Theological Seminary
In this little book, Simon Gathercole carefully and convincingly dismisses false dichotomies. The death of Christ is presented in the Bible as both representative and substitutionary. These learned and lucid lectures use the prism of modern disputes to take us to the heart of Pauline teaching on the cross. I highly commend it.
—Mark Dever, pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC
Simon Gathercole is senior lecturer in New Testament studies in the faculty of divinity of the University of Cambridge and fellow and director of studies in theology at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. A leading British New Testament scholar, he has written hundreds of articles and several groundbreaking volumes, including The Preexistent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, The Gospel of Judas: Rewriting Early Christianity, The Composition of the Gospel of Thomas, and The Gospel of Thomas: Introduction and Commentary. He is also coauthor of How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response and Heaven on Earth. He also coedited Divine and Human Agency in Paul and His Cultural Environment.