Was the Death of Christ a
“Substitutionary” Atonement?

 Did Christ die “in our place”?

 by Lorraine Day, M.D.

One of the most basic, fundamental teachings of virtually all Christian religions is the “Substitutionary Death “ of Jesus Christ. 

The following is their teaching:

Jesus Christ not only died for my sins, He died for ME. 

He not only died FOR me, He died IN MY PLACE. 

He faced the death that I as a sinner should have to face.

The following texts are used to support this dogma:

1.    Romans 6:23:  “For the wages of sin is death. . .” 

The teaching:  Sins must be paid for.

2.    Isaiah 59:2:  “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear.”

The teaching:  Christ’s death doesn’t necessarily mean that we won’t have to face physical death, but we can escape spiritual death.  Spiritual death, they say, is separation from God.

3.    Revelation 20:14:  “And death and Hell were cast into the lake of fire.  This is the second death.”

The teaching:  The Lake of Fire is where lost sinners will face everlasting spiritual death (separation from God), this is what is considered to be, by orthodox religion, the second death.

4.    Revelation 20:6:  “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power . . .”

The teaching:  Salvation in Christ Jesus saves us from spiritual death.

5.    Isaiah 53:5  “. . . He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.”

6.    2 Corinthians 5:14-15  “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this; that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.”

7.    2 Corinthians 5:21  “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin: that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”

8.    1 Peter 2:24  “And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”

9.    Romans 5:6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.

10. Romans 5:8 But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans, Chapter 5, is considered to be Paul’s chapter on the “Substitutionary” death of Christ.  But that section, according to the orthodox view, is not meant to stand in isolation, and various aspects of the subject are clarified and detailed as they arise throughout the discussion in other chapters of the book of Romans.

11.  1 Corinthians 15:3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.

12. 1 Corinthians 8:11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?

13.  But if thy brother be grieved with thy food, now walkest thou not charitably.  Destroy not him with thy food, for whom Christ died.

Please note, that in NONE of these texts does it say that “Christ died in my place” or that “Christ died in my stead.”  In fact, NO MATCHES for these two phrases are found in the Bible, in a search using Strong’s Concordance.  (See last page of this study.)

The concept that Christ died “in my place” is a false doctrine, it is an incorrect extrapolation of the biblical doctrine that “Christ died FOR us.” 

Because the theologians of today both believe and are promoting the false doctrine that Christians will not have to go through the tribulation AND that Christians do not have to be perfect to enter heaven, they attach their false interpretation and extrapolation to these texts, misinterpreting them as, “Christ died in our place – so we don’t have to die.”

This is a modern false doctrine for “itching ears” as the Bible says, a false doctrine designed to produce WEAK Christians who will fall like dominoes when their faith is tested by persecution.

Not All Theologians Agree with “Substitutionary” Atonement, Even In Orthodox Christianity

There are Critics, even in the Orthodox Christian denominations, both past and present, who usually raise objections to a “Substitutionary” Atonement.

A)   Not Enough?  Many current mainline Christians – such as William Placher, “Christ Takes our Place” (Interpretation, Jan 1999), and Peter Schmiechen, Saving Power (Eerdmans, 2005) – say penal substitution is, at best, inadequate.

And how true that is.  In order for me to be fit for heaven, I have to be perfect.  If some or all of the people in heaven are NOT perfect, then heaven will become just like this earth – a hotbed of sin.  It won’t be “heaven” anymore.

Most Christians believe that somehow we just “try to do our best on this earth - then God makes up the rest.”   They believe that when a Christian dies, God apparently waves a magic wand over them, after they are dead, and they miraculously become perfect and, thus, fit for heaven.

If that is true, then why are we here in this world?  Why doesn’t God just wave the magic wand when we are born so we can avoid all the struggles of life?  Why does God tell us that trials and tribulations build character, therefore trials and tribulations are GOOD for us? 

If God can “wave the magic wand” when we die, then just how “good” do we have to be before He agrees to wave the magic wand?  80% “good”?  60% “good”?  40% “good”?  20% “good”?  And if we only have to be a certain percentage “good”, well, plenty of non-Christians are 20% - 40% “good” and sometimes they seem to have even more “good” in them than some “Christians.”

Why can’t God “wave the magic wand” over these non-Christians and change their character so they can go to heaven, too?

How Do We Become Perfect?

Some denominations say that when Christ died, His “blood covers our sin.”  Thus, Christ covers us with “His robe of righteousness” so God cannot see our sin.

Does that mean that we are fooling God?  Does that mean that God can’t really SEE how sinful we are?  If that is true, then God is NOT Sovereign!  We have out-foxed God!  This, of course, is absurd.

Again, heaven will only be heaven if everyone there has the character of Jesus – if everyone there is perfectly exhibiting the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, humility, and self control. (Galatians 5:22,23)

But the only way we develop those characteristics is by having so much trouble (the trials and tribulations that we are promised in the Scriptures) that we realize we are unable to run our own life.  (Jesus knows exactly how to get us to this point.)  So we ask Jesus to come into our heart and change us – to put His Spirit – His disposition – His character, into us.

The burning desire to have Jesus run our life is automatically followed by the burning desire to study His word, to seek Him in Bible study and prayer in order to get to know Him.  It is this process, approached with a contrite heart and a clear knowledge of our own sinfulness that begins the process of a change in our character. 

“By beholding” Christ, we become changed into His image.  By studying the gospels and the rest of the Bible, by constantly looking at the life of Jesus, by a fervent desire to be like the one we admire, by falling in love with Jesus, by wanting to live the way He wants us to live, that is the process that begins to change us. 

When He died on the cross, His death paid the penalty for sin and gave Him the authority to come into the life – eventually – of everyone who has ever lived, and change them into His image.  Without  that character change, no one will be allowed into heaven – no one will be fit for heaven.

Penal Substitution Doesn’t Work

If a man is a serial killer and is convicted of multiple murders and given the death penalty, but the court allows his mother to be executed in his place – and he is released back into society - how does that make him a better person, fit to live in society? The entire reason we are living on this earth, is to get to know Jesus and become like Him – through trials and tribulations.

If the doctrine of a “Substitutionary” Atonement were correct, one must ask the following question:

How does Christ’s death on the cross make me a better person?

Just HOW does it change me – and my character?

“Substitution” doesn’t make sense!  In addition, it’s UNbiblical.

Some respond, “Well, God doesn’t have to make sense.  After all, He’s God!”  But God wants us to understand, that’s why He gave us the Bible and that’s why He gave us His “spirit of truth” – to help us understand.

Repeatedly Jesus said, “He that hath ears, let him hear.”  (Luke 14:35)

Jesus came to “give sight to the blind” – the spiritually blind!


Additional Problems regarding a “Substitutionary” Death of Christ

1.     God sent His SON to die?  That’s what the Bible says, according to the theologians.  But Jesus IS God (John 1:1-3, 14).  Jesus IS God – in human form.

There is only One God – NOT a Trinity.  (“Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is ONE Lord.”)   (Mark 12:29) 

When Jesus died on the “Cross” – it was God, Himself, dying on the Cross.  God can certainly be in two places – and in two forms – at once.  After all, He IS God!

In addition, the “Holy Spirit” is a mistranslation of the words “Breath of holiness.”  The “Holy Spirit” is NOT a “Being.”  It is God’s Breath (NOT “spirit”) of holiness that He puts in each one of us – eventually in everyone. 

God breathed physical “breath” into Adam’s nostrils when he was created, and Adam became a living person (soul).  Without physical breath, man is DEAD!

God also “breathes” Spiritual “breath” into us when we learn to know Him in a personal, intimate way, His “breath of holiness” (NOT “Holy Spirit” and certainly Not “Holy GHOST”).  Without Jesus’ “breath of holiness” – His character living in us and being exhibited by us – we will be Spiritually DEAD!

2.     There is NO burning “hellfire” as a punishment for sin.  God does NOT “punish” us for sinning.  The words “punish” and “punishment” are NOT in the Bible, in the original language.  They have been written in by the theologians. 

Sin has consequences.  The consequences of sin are “wrapped into” the sin itself, and automatically are the outcome.  We “Reap what we have Sown.”  (See, “Was the Doctrine of Hellfire Manufactured by the Theologians?”)

       3. Jesus said, “You SHALL be Perfect.” (Matt 5:48 – literal translation) We can become perfect ONLY by going through trials and tribulations.  We don’t become perfect automatically just because Jesus died “in our Place” – which He did not.  There is NO verse in the Bible that supports the concept that Jesus “died in our place.”

     4. If Jesus died so “we don’t have to die” - just which of the two “deaths” are we talking about?

a)  Physical death?  This can’t be the answer because we all still die a physical death.

b)  Spiritual death?  How is that defined?  The Bible defines it as dying to sin – “I am crucified with Christ, yet I live, but not I but Christ lives in me.”  (Galatians 2:20)

We still have to die that death (dying to sin), so just what “death” was Jesus a “Substitute” for?

c) “Eternal burning hellfire”?  If it is this death that Jesus died as our substitute, how could three days in a tomb be an appropriate substitution for billions of sinners destined for trillions of years in “everlasting torment in hellfire”?

If Jesus “died in my place” and in the place of billions of other sinners, why isn’t He still burning in hellfire?  

 s a few hours in the tomb by Jesus a sufficient substitute for trillions of years of horrible burning torment for each one of the many billions of people who have been born on this earth?




Serious Problems:

There are serious problems with this explanation in “c” just above:

1)         Jesus was not in the tomb three days and three nights.  (The three days and three nights occurred BEFORE He was crucified)  He was only in the tomb for minutes, or at the most a couple of hours. He certainly DID die, but how long was He dead?  (See “Was Jesus Really Resurrected on Sunday?”)

2) The words eternal, everlasting, and forever do NOT appear in the Bible in the original Greek.  They were written in by the translators.  The Greek word in every case is “eonian” which is a definite period in time, with a beginning and an end.  The word “eonian” does NOT mean eternity – as we understand eternity. (See “Does Forever Really Mean Forever?”)

3)      There is no hell!  The word hell does NOT appear in the Bible in the original Greek.  The word hell has been fraudulently written in by the translators. 

Everyone will certainly “reap what he has sown” - and THAT will be their own “hell.”  But there is NO literal burning “hellfire.”(See “Was the Doctrine of Hell Manufactured by Theologians?”)

                                                                                                                                                                                     "It is finished!”

When Jesus died on the “Cross,” He said in a loud voice, “It is finished!”  (John 19:30)

Just WHAT was “finished”?

Was SIN “finished”?  Certainly not.  Human beings kept right on sinning – and to this day, sin is still ever-present in the world.

So, just WHAT was “finished”?

 a)  Jesus died for ALL the sins of the whole world, that is true  (Romans 5:6)  Does that mean that ALL men (human beings) are saved?  The answer is – eventually – Yes!  This is the doctrine of Universal Restoration.  (See “What Happens at the Judgment?”)

 b) Jesus died on the “Cross” to pay the penalty for the sins of the whole world, because “sin” for the world was God’s idea, and Jesus is God! 

No, that does NOT make Jesus a sinner.  Jesus never sinned.  But His plan for the redemption of the world included plunging the world into sin.

Who put the Serpent in the Garden of Eden?  (Genesis 3:1)

Whose hand formed the Crooked Serpent?  (Genesis 3:1; Job 26:13)

Who created the Waster to Destroy?  (Isaiah 54:16)

Who admits that He subjected the world to sin – against our will?  (Romans 8:20)

So just what was “finished” at the Cross?  Jesus paid the penalty for sin, and by doing so, obtained the authority to change the life of every sinner who has ever been on earth.


So What is the Answer?

Jesus most certainly died “for me” and for every person who has ever been born.

He died to TAKE AWAY the sin of the (whole) world. (John 1:29)

But He did NOT die “in my place.”  That is an unbiblical doctrine, totally unsupported in Scripture.

Christ’s death was NOT a “Substitutionary” Atonement.

Jesus came to this earth to show us 1) how to live the perfect life – by staying in constant touch with our heavenly Father – as He did when He was on earth, and 2) to show us HOW to die, both physically (standing for the truth of Jesus Christ against all odds – which may end in our martyrdom) and spiritually – by our dying to sin, by our crucifying the “flesh.”

God is Sovereign.  EVERYTHING that happens is HIS will!  Plunging the world into sin was God’s Idea, that’s why He, in the form of Jesus, took responsibility for His Plan – and died - thus paying the penalty for sin.

When Jesus died, and paid the penalty for sin for EVERYONE, Satan could no longer point his accusatory finger at mankind and contend that mankind could not be saved because they are all sinners.  When Jesus died on the cross, the penalty for sin had now been paid in full – by Jesus Christ, Himself – the One who put the “sin” Plan (reaping what one has sown) together in the first place.

It WAS “finished!”

After His death, Christ then had the authority to begin the process of changing lives – EVERY life!

Who is responsible for sin?

Is humankind responsible for sin?  Of course not.  Sin started in heaven with the devil and his angels.  We human beings were brought into the “sinning club” at a much later time.

“The world was not subjected to vanity (sin) willingly, but by Him who subjects it in hope (expectation).” Romans 8:20

In this verse, Jesus tells us that HE is the one who formulated the plan to plunge the entire world and its inhabitants into sin.  Then HE would come to earth as a “man” and show us that if we stay in close relationship to our heavenly Father, we too will eventually be able to lead sinless lives after He makes us “a new creature in Christ”  - but NOT by “magic.”  There is no “Quick fix” for sin.  Purging the sin out of our life is a slow and painful process.

Why was SIN necessary?

It is impossible to know “good” without knowing the opposite - “evil.”

Remember that the Tree that was placed in the middle of the Garden of Eden was, The Tree of knowledge of Good AND Evil.  Satan always mixes the two together for the ultimate in deceptive power.

Adam and Eve were unable to understand “Good” without understanding “Evil” as well.

Before Adam and Eve sinned, we have no record that they ever thanked God for:

1)    their health.  Because they had never seen or experienced disease or death – in anything.

2)    the beautiful Garden of Eden in which they lived.  Because they had never known the opposite.

3)    The privilege of talking directly with God every day.  Because they didn’t know any other way of life.

But once they sinned, they KNEW the difference between good and evil.



In Other Words:

a)      God did NOT send another person, “Jesus,” His “Son,” to die.  That would be a morally reprehensible thing for Him to do.  A human father would be considered despicable if he had a very dangerous, potentially life-threatening job to do, and instead of doing it himself, he sent his son to do it. That father would NOT be considered a hero.  He would be considered diabolically selfish and viewed as a monster who would sacrifice his child rather than put his own life at risk.

Jesus IS God – Jesus is God in human form.  God, Himself, came to die.  (There is NO “Trinity.”  The Bible teaches: “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is ONE Lord.” (Deut 6:4; Mark 12:29)

b)  God died for the “sins of the world” because it was God’s Plan to plunge the world into “sin.”   It was God who decided that sin would infect the whole human race.  It was God who placed Satan, the serpent, in the tree in the “midst of the garden” of Eden, to tempt Eve and Adam.  It was God who created Adam and Eve so innocent that at the very first recorded temptation, they fell like a ton of bricks.

Since it was God’s Plan that the human race would fall into sin, God took responsibility for it.  HE, in the form of Jesus Christ, paid the price for sin, because “sin” was God’s idea. 

That does NOT mean that God is a sinner – it means that “sin” for the human race was God’s idea, because we learn “best” by making mistakes.

c)      By paying the price on the Cross (literally “pole” or “tree” – NOT “Cross” which is the pagan symbol of Tammuz), God then has the authority to come in to the life of each person, to change him and make him a “new creature in Christ” which means that eventually everyone will have the character and disposition of Christ.

When Jesus Christ is making every decision in our life, we will no longer sin.  We will be Perfect!

d)      This change in one’s life comes about ONLY by trials and tribulations.  NO ONE changes if everything is going along smoothly. 

We really realize our need for Jesus ONLY when we face trials and tribulations, make bad decisions, then reap what we have sown.  When we have had enough of “reaping what we have sown,” eventually everyone will seek the Lord with all their heart to have Him run their life. That is what changes our character into the character of Christ.

“You will seek Me, and you WILL find Me, (but only) when you search for Me with ALL your heart.”  (Jer 29:13)

© Lorraine Day, M.D. 2006. All Rights Reserved.
This document cannot be reproduced in any form
except for downloading for personal use.

Return to Bible Study