God Punished Jesus


Edward John Carnell has a very strong doctrine of God’s wrath and its correlate, penal substitutionary atonement. His approach is unique and further highlights, in my opinion, the essential nature of this doctrine. He focuses on the effect of sin to cause a breaking of fellowship, because sin is a loss in the dignities — capacity for love and trust — which makes a man a man. Malice, lies, adultery, pride, etc. break the bond uniting friends and lovers. The necessary and proper result is hatred against the sin(s) which break the bond, which hinder fellowship. A person who does not hate and condemn the evil, that breaks the fellowship of love and trust, is not a person who truly valued the fellowship.

But, much more does God value the fellowship between himself and his creatures, and much more does God hate the evil that disrupts the mutual communion of love and trust that should exist between God and man. On man’s side, sin elicits a profound sorrow and grief once he realizes — and to the extent that he can realize — the holy God, the Father of Jesus Christ. Christ himself was the one who wholly bore this sorrow and grief, because he was the one who wholly bore the sin and evil that breaks fellowship.

That sets the stage for Professor Carnell’s exposition. This is some strong language, but rightly so:


It was this type of sorrow which Jesus Christ passed through as he bore the pains of the second death. When the sins of the world were laid on the Son, the Father obliged to turn away, crying, “You are morally blameworthy; I cannot look upon you.” For this reason the Son cried out in agony, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The loss of the Father’s fellowship was infinitely painful to the heart of the Son.

The Son, who from everlasting was the object of the Father’s supreme pleasure, empirically felt what it meant to have that fellowship cut off on the ground of the guilt which he had taken upon himself as the Second Adam. As in the Old Testament, where the priest laid his hands upon the head of the goat, making it the scapegoat for the sins of Israil (Lev. 16: 21-22), so “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Cor. 5:21)

The spirit within man quivers at even the thought of the Son of God passing through the agony of hell, that he might redeem a holy church unto himself. We must put our hands over our eyes to keep from being blinded by this sacrificial splendor. At the moment Christ endured the second death, the only person the Father could see on the cross was one full of sin — sin which was not Christ’s own, but of which nonetheless he had become the vicarious agent. The sword in the heart of the Son was the withdrawal of the Father’s fellowship. In the instant when the guilt and transgressions of the world were transferred to his cross, the Son (as it were) beheld the tears in the eyes of the Father. There was guilt in the heavenly family.

Abraham had raised the knife to slay Isaac, but he was spared the grief of the lad’s death because God supplied the ram. But in the case of Christ, the Father was pleased to sacrifice his Son, for love knew that only through Christ’s taking sin upon his cross could justice flow from God to the race of sinful men.

It was with a loud cry that Christ released the agony of his heart, not just a mild registration of uneasiness. He bore the scourging with equanimity; the spitting and the nailing were taken in course; but when the Father withdrew fellowship on the grounds of the Son’s guilt, the pain was too great to be contained. The Son of God shrieked in sorrow.


Edward John Carnell, A Philosophy of the Christian Religion (Eerdmans, 1952; Baker, 1980; Wipf & Stock, 2007), pp. 382-3.



  1. Kevin,

    We just discussed this particular question in the comments of this post about Aquinas’ on Christ’s Passion. In the comments I pointed out some problems for the penal substitution view. Also, the late Avery Cardinal Dulles laid out the strengths and weaknesses of the various positions in this article.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  2. I also hope you’ll take some time to read through the recent debate between Nick and Turretinfan dealing with penal substitution. You won’t regret it. Turretinfan has an almost complete index up. No doubt, I think Nick walked away with it, but the reading I did based on going through the debate is some of the most interesting I’ve done in a while.

  3. For my Sunday School class this coming Sunday I think I’ll be teaching on Psalm 22, have been thinking on these issues.

    James Torrance, late professor from your school I believe, held to what he viewed a filial view of atonement, based on McCleod Campbell’s “The Nature Of The Atonement” a book which Dr. Torrance held in the highest esteem. I am working through this book now, but it has been very hard going due to the style in which it is written. But it deals at length with the issue of penal versus filial atonement.

  4. I’ve been meaning to read Campbell’s Atonement. It was highly influential on Tom Torrance as well, which, of course, is a plus in my book.

    I’d also check-out P. T. Forsyth’s The Work of Christ for an excellent re-presentation of the traditional “holiness of God” angle.

  5. I taught my Sunday school class on Psalm 22 yesterday. I had the opportunity to briefly consult Campbell’s Atonement and his discussion of Ps 22. His point is that although this psalm is frequently used to justify a penal atonement, he asserts that there is no such language in this psalm. Instead, this is an event in which Jesus is permitted a trial of his faith, (in the same manner as Hebrews teaches that Jesus was tested). And indeed, in Psalm 22 we see that the psalmist has nothing left but his faith. Everything else is stripped away. And so Jesus on the cross was permitted to be stripped of everything so that he might depend solely on faith. And, as an old hymn I grew up with says: “faith is the victory”.

    I have found Campbell hard to read. Nevertheless he seems to be quite an original thinker. The only reason I have been able to persevere is because of James Torrance’s high recommendations. He felt it was one of the classic texts on the atonement right up there with Athanasius.

  6. Good note on the Psalms, John.

    I couldn’t imagine using Ps. 22 alone as an argument for penal atonement, but as appropriated by Christ in his sacrifice on the cross then it becomes part of the overall propitiatory matrix.

    The early fathers were just theologians, nothing more, some good, some bad…lots of bad.

  7. Kevin,

    The early fathers were just theologians, nothing more, some good, some bad…lots of bad.

    That’s both naive and arrogant. It reduces sola scriptura to solo scriptura, and turns tradition into a wax nose. The Fathers had good reasons for affirming that God in His divine nature is without passions. See, for example Thomas Weinandy’s book Does God Suffer? and his other book Does God Change?.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  8. The early fathers were just theologians, nothing more, some good, some bad…lots of bad.

    I think is one of the greatest weaknesses of Protestant Christianity. The Church is bunch of individuals governed by their own reason and conscience; where’s the communcal guidances of the Spirit?

  9. They were men, Christian men, but men nonetheless. They received or did not receive the Holy Spirit the same way that Christians do today. They had access to the same scriptures as we do (though, our historical and linguistic advances are far greater). Karl Barth is not any less or more authoritative than Augustine. They were both theologians, both capable of errors, as we all recognize. Augustine did not have any “special insight,” or special capacity, that Barth doesn’t have.

    Bryan, I’m not saying that the fathers shouldn’t be read or that we can study scripture apart from our tradition(s). That, indeed, would be naive. But, I think it is truly naive to give the early fathers this ridiculous sanctimonious reverence. I think Athanasius is great. Who doesn’t? But he is great because he is Johannine or, more broadly, scriptural. He was a good theologian among a lot of shitty theologians. Ditto for Barth in the 20th century and Calvin in the 16th century.

    Considering the individualism of Protestantism, I think the rather common confessional unity among evangelical Christians is not something to be dismissed. The parachurch ministries across the world point to a unity that transcends bishops and popes.

  10. By the way, I actually agree with the attribute of simplicity, and, to that extent, I agree with certain presentations of impassibility.

    My point, against Lucian, is that I don’t believe this because some early fathers believed it.

  11. Hi Mr. Davis, I have been trying to catch up on my reading and I happened to see this article.

    You offered the following quote from Professor Carnell:

    “It was this type of sorrow which Jesus Christ passed through as he bore the pains of the second death. When the sins of the world were laid on the Son, the Father obliged to turn away, crying, “You are morally blameworthy; I cannot look upon you.” For this reason the Son cried out in agony, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The loss of the Father’s fellowship was infinitely painful to the heart of the Son.”

    I see folks who argue for penal substitution use this verse (Mt. 27:46) as support for this doctrine, but I must ask, what if Jesus was not reciting the opening verse from Psalm 22 because He lost the Father’s fellowship? What if he was reciting for another reason? The Jews of that time considered Psalm 22 as a messianic prophecy. What if Jesus was reciting this verse as a last proof that He was the Messiah?
    So Jesus was not in despair at all, nor suffering the loss of the Father, but was reaffirming His salvific purpose.

    I thought I throw this out for your consideration.

    God bless!
    I thought I throw that

  12. Thanks for the note, Paul. I’ve come across this before, as it is a fairly common claim against penal substitution. But, frankly, it doesn’t make any sense that Jesus would appropriate Ps. 22 merely for its messianic purchase, regardless of what the content involves and the context in which it is uttered. This is Christ at the height of his agony, and he chooses to cry “I am forsaken!” True, he was making a messianic claim, but, more than that, he was making a messianic claim about this messiahthe messiah — and his abandonment to the curse of sin. That is far more profound, and makes far more sense of the situation, than the anemic claims that, “Hey, I’m really the Messiah,” is all he meant.

  13. “It is NOT those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who OBEY the law who will be declared righteous.” Rom. 2:13
    You folks really need to find out which law he is talking about.

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