The Cross And Substitutionary Atonement -- By: Simon Gathercole

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 11:2 (Summer 2007)
Article: The Cross And Substitutionary Atonement
Author: Simon Gathercole

The Cross And Substitutionary Atonement

Simon Gathercole

Simon Gathercole is Senior Lecturer in New Testament in the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He also serves on the editorial board of the Journal for the Study of the New Testament. Dr. Gathercole has written numerous articles and is the author of Where is Boasting? Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul’s Response in Romans1-5 (Eerdmans, 2002).


A paper about the atonement should need no justification. If the doctrine is under attack (as it frequently is) then there is a need to expound and defend it biblically against its cultured despisers. Even if it is not explicitly under attack, the centrality of the atonement to Christian doctrine requires that we continue to preach it and teach it. So, whether in season or out of season, we all need to be theologians of, and preachers of the atonement.

The focus here will be on the aspect of the atonement usually termed “substitution,” for which Robert Letham’s and Karl Barth’s definitions are helpful:

Christ himself willingly submitted to the just penalty which we deserved, receiving it on our behalf and in our place so that we will not have to bear it ourselves.2

In His doing this for us, in His taking to Himself—to fulfil all righteousness—our accusation and condemnation and punishment, in His suffering in our place and for us, there came to pass our reconciliation with God.3

Although these definitions understand substitution in terms of substitutionary punishment, the issue of penalty will not be treated here below.4 I intend in this paper simply to answer three questions in connection with substitution. First, is substitution still important? Second, is substitution still alive? Third, is substitution still biblical? The aim of this third section will be both to sift the evidence that has traditionally been used, but also to offer two suggestions of new areas of biblical material that might usefully be taken on board in future discussions of justification.

Is Substitution Still Important?

When does a gospel become a false gospel? Paul knew a heresy when he saw it in Galatia, but Galatians gives us no hard and fast principles to define the limits of acceptable doctrine. This question of where lines should be drawn has become an issue much discussed currently in the U.S.A. with the rise of openness theism, a controversy that seems to have a...

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