Christian Humanist Profiles 39: Defending Substitution

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Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
in my place condemned he stood,
sealed my pardon with his blood:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

These lines from P. P. Bliss’s classic hymn are powerful, but are they true? While most would concede that Jesus’ status as savior is a biblical idea, the consensus among NT scholars is that Bliss’s substitutionary language—”in my place … he stood”—is a theological imposition alien to the NT writers’ intent. Instead, they contend, Christ’s atoning work is better represented in terms of identification, representation, and participation. Simon Gathercole, Senior Lecturer in New Testament Studies and Fellow at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, wants to push back at this consensus. In his book Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul (Baker Academic, May 2015), Gathercole argues that substitution is an important element in Paul’s understanding of atonement, demonstrating this claim with rigorous exegesis, and showing that alternative theories ultimately (and ironically) cannot replace substitution.

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