The Substitutionary Death of Christ, Christianity and Ed Stevens
It is important for the reader to know that while I am responding to and addressing the views of Edward Stevens (International Preterist Association) in regard to the Substitutionary Death of Christ, this issue is of far wider scope and significance than Stevens. This issue has been and continues to be a topic of discussion and debate in Christianity. This is witnessed by a powerful new book by William Lane Craig, an outstanding philosopher and Christian apologist, entitled Atonement and the Death of Christ, (Waco, Tx.: Baylor University Press, 2020). Craig gives an excellent defense of the doctrine of the substitutionary death of Christ. (It is clear, however, that Craig– like Stevens- does not see the train coming in his insistence that Christ’s physical death was substitutionary).
With this in mind, I want to ask a very simple question: What does “Substitution” mean? I seriously doubt that anyone will have to run to a dictionary to find the proper and true meaning. The word means “in the place of, instead of.” This is literally beyond dispute or question. Why do I ask such a simple question? It is because Edward Stevens claims that what I teach about Christ and his death on the cross destroys the doctrine of the substitutionary death of Christ. I categorically deny this, claiming instead that Stevens’ definition of Adamic Death as physical death presents insurmountable problems for his view of “substitutionary death.”
What you need to know in order to fully understand what follows, is that Stevens defines the Death of Adam as, “Comprehensive Death” (his term). By that, he says that when God said: “in the day that you eat you shall surely die,” on that very day, spiritual death (alienation from God), physical death, and, Hadean Death were imposed on Adam, and subsequently on all mankind through Adam.
Stevens knows, however, that Adam and Eve did not die physically that day (Although he says they DID DIE SPIRITUALLY. Consider that carefully)! So, he postulates that God killed an animal instead of Adam, in the place of Adam. In this way, Adam died representatively, when the animal died. The animal died INSTEAD OF ADAM AND EVE. Adam did not actually die, as threatened, because of that substitutionary animal sacrifice.
I have asked Stevens repeatedly to explain why it was that the animal sacrifice PREVENTED THEIR PHYSICAL DEATH, BUT DID NOT PREVENT THEIR SPIRITUAL DEATH, AND, DID NOT PREVENT THEM FROM GOING TO HADES WHEN THEY DIED 900 YEARS LATER. Stevens has refused – absolutely refused- to answer.
Was the substitutionary animal sacrifice effective for only one day, but then lost its efficacy? If the animal sacrifice prevented the physical (penal) death at the beginning, why wouldn’t more on-going animal sacrifices prevent their physical penal death when they were 900 years old?
Stevens claims, amazingly, that the original substitutionary animal sacrifice saves US TODAY from instant death when we sin! (#13-A– (His 2nd Negative, paragraph #56 of our written debate, Unfinished as I post this. What has been finished is archived at the “Preterist Debate” Facebook page)). You read that correctly! Do you catch the power of this claim? This is stunning and Stevens has given us not a keystroke to prove this assertion. And I imagine that he has not actively shared this with his followers. Imagine, the very first animal sacrifice continues to bless us today, but it only blessed Adam for one day! Here again is what Stevens says about that original animal sacrifice:
(A) We are exempt from immediate physical death on the day we sin because of that animal dying in Adam’s place.
Now, again, keep in mind that Stevens claims that God’s threat of dying the very day of sin was a one time for all time threat, never repeated. If that is true, then how exactly does that original animal sacrifice keep us from dying the very day we sin? Furthermore, why do we even need the substitutionary death of Jesus to prevent our physical death the day we sin, since, according to Stevens, that original animal sacrifice prevents our death the day we sin???
(B) That animal’s death gives provisional forgiveness and escape from eternal death to those who have the same kind of faith that Adam had.
Folks, if that original bloody sacrifice provides deliverance from eternal death, what more do we need???? Now, again, keep in mind that the original sacrifice did not prevent Adam from dying spiritually that very day. So, exactly how can that sacrifice help US to escape eternal death, if we have died spiritually?
Stevens admits (Answers-#10) that Adam died 900 years after the Garden, AS A DIRECT RESULT OF SIN. If the “substitutionary” animal sacrifice prevented physical death that day then why wouldn’t the continuation of animal sacrifices by Adam, not prevent his death completely? (And by the way, you can’t deny that Adam’s ultimate death was penal when IT WAS THE DIRECT RESULT OF SIN, as Stevens admits). So, why doesn’t the substitutionary death of Christ delay our physical death at least as long as the animal sacrifice delayed Adam’s physical death, i.e. 900 years– or for even one single day?
Now, during our written exchange and on Facebook, I have posed these questions, but received not a keystroke of response. But on Facebook, I posted three articles on Stevens’ claim that Resurrection No Longer Applies Today. Stevens never responded to my actual articles, or arguments, choosing instead to divert attention away by demanding that I answer some questions about Revelation 21-22 which I did not discuss in my articles! Below is a post he made on 8-16-2020 about the substitutionary death of Christ. He was clearly trying to avoid focus on his “No Resurrection” doctrine. But, in running from the lion, he ran into the bear.
Here is his post on the Substitutionary Death of Christ. Read it carefully.
Edward E. Stevens – Here are a few questions for all of us (including futurists and preterists) to think about. This is NOT just a preterist issue. It is a “Christian” issue, which all of us Christians need to seriously consider:
• When Jesus died physically on the Cross, did he die our death for us? In other words, was He a “substitute” for us? Did he take our place and die for us?
• What did Apostle Paul mean (Rom. 6:8; Col. 2:20; 2 Tim. 2:11) when he stated that “we died with Christ”? Is that a reference to His substitutionary sacrificial death on our behalf?
• Did the substitutionary sacrificial physical death of Christ fulfill the types and shadows of the Old Testament substitutionary sacrificial system?
• When did those “substitutionary” sacrifices begin? A better question would be: When SHOULD they have begun? It should have begun when sin showed up! That was the right time. Why would God wait thousands of years later to provide the remedy, when forgiveness was so desperately needed right there in the garden “on the day they ate”?
• When was the first sin? Adam in the garden! Did God provide a remedy (forgiveness) right then and there? (Hint: Gen 3:21).
• Why was Adam NOT physically struck dead “on the day he ate”? Was there a substitute sacrificed in his place? (Gen 3:21) Did that animal DIE HIS DEATH for him – at least in a provisional sense, pointing to Christ who would ultimately die his death for him?
• If that animal was a substitute for Adam, and died his death for him, just like Christ was our substitute and died our death for us, then it is reasonable to conclude that at least in a “provisional” sense, Adam “died with” that animal, just like we “died with” Christ.
• That is what the word “substitutionary” means. It is why the animal sacrificial system was described as “substitutionary”. When an Israelite brought an animal to the priest to be sacrificed on his behalf, he laid his hands on the head of the animal and imputed his sins to that animal. Then that animal was slain on his behalf, covering his sin temporarily and provisionally until Jesus came to fully and finally take our sins away permanently. That sinner who brought the animal to the temple “died with” that animal in a “substitutionary” sacrificial sense.
• A substitutionary transaction took place when the animal was slain: the sins were imputed or transferred to the animal (representing Christ), and the animal died his death for him. The death that Adam owed because of his sin was paid by his substitute (the animal). Adam’s debt was paid by the animal. The animal’s death was Adam’s death. Therefore, Adam “died with” that animal, just like we “died with” Christ when He died for our sins.//
Then, on 8-25-2020, William Vincent posted a video about Hebrews 10 in which he attempted to refute full preterism. Amazingly (well, not so amazing these days!) Ed Stevens praised that video as a fine example of “orthodoxy”. (Note the irony here! Stevens claims– I no longer believe him– to be a full preterist– meaning he is NOT ORTHODOX – but, he is continuing to post praises of futurists on an increasing basis lately). Among his comments of praise were these words:
//Blessings to you and yours, William Vincent. Thanks for lifting high the Cross of Christ and its PHYSICAL substitutionary sacrificial death of the individual physical body of Jesus, our God-man in heaven.//
Now, I give this to drive home the point that Ed Stevens- Vincent and others– demand that we believe that it was JESUS’ PHYSICAL DEATH ON THE CROSS THAT WAS SUBSTITUTIONARY. With this in mind, let me proceed.
Pay careful attention to the fact that Stevens repeatedly refers to Christ dying physically as a substitute. He tells us that just as animals died in the place of men, Jesus died in our place. Read again his words: “If that animal was a substitute for Adam, and died his death for him, just like Christ was our substitute and died our death for us, then it is reasonable to conclude that at least in a “provisional” sense, Adam “died with” that animal, just like we “died with” Christ.
Note quickly his use of “provisional.” Now, if Adam pointed to Jesus, and he did, then all “provisional” aspects of Adam and the deliverance from his death have ceased, meaning that we must have the “actual” benefit of the substitutionary physical death of Christ! And that demands that we should not die physically, at all- period!
That is what the word “substitutionary” means.
So, per Stevens’ own admission, Christ died the death we should have died. HE DIED IN OUR PLACE. HE DIED INSTEAD OF US. And, keep this crucial point in mind. When Stevens speaks of Christ’s substitutionary death, he is referring to JESUS’ PHYSICAL DEATH.
SideBar: Does Stevens believe that Jesus died A SUBSTITUTIONARY SPIRITUAL DEATH? Does he believe that Jesus was separated from the Father? Well, according to his own words, Jesus’ death on the cross has not prevented the spiritual death of a single person, since he says that our physical death– which of course is universal – only comes on us BECAUSE WE FIRST DIE SPIRITUALLY! We all die physically “because we are all sinners.” Thus, Christ’s death on the cross– HIS SUBSTITUTIONARY DEATH – does not keep one person from dying spiritually or physically! So much for his doctrine of a substitutionary (in the place of, instead of) death of Christ!
With that in mind, consider the following:
If it is true that Christ’s physical death was substitutionary, (in the place of, instead of),
it MUST BE TRUE, that those in Christ, under the power of his physical substitutionary death, SHOULD NOT DIE PHYSICALLY. After all, if he died INSTEAD OF US, we should not have to die. There is no way to escape this.
Edward Stevens puts a horrible twist on the very idea of substitutionary death. Given his scenario, imagine the following situation:
A man is on death row, facing the death penalty for heinous crimes.
His father steps in and appeals to the governor, saying, “I will take my son’s place. Please, kill me instead of my son!”
The governor responds: “But, you have not broken the law. You are not guilty of his crimes or any crime!”
The father responds: “While that is true, nonetheless, because of my love for my son, I wish to die in his place.”
Strangely, the Governor agrees, and on the day the son was to die, the father is put to death.
The son thinks he is free. His father has died a substitutionary death, dying instead of him.
But then, when the father has been put to death, they come for the son and say, “You are next; Time to die!”
The son is incredulous! “That can’t be true! My father died for me! He took my place so that I would not have to die!”
The governor responds, “Well, yea, your father died in your place, he died as a substitute for you, but, you have to die anyway!”
Anyone can see that this is the height of injustice and cruelty. But, it is precisely the situation posited by Edward Stevens’ (and Christianity’s) view of Adamic Death and the Substitutionary Physical Death of Jesus. He says Christ died physically as our substitute, so that we do not have to die, BUT THEN HE SAYS WE ALL DIE PHYSICALLY “BECAUSE WE ARE ALL SINNERS.”
As Paul said, “all men die because all men sinned” (Romans 5:12). “All sin and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), thus, all are doomed to die physically, per Stevens. But then he says Christ died physically in our place. He died instead of us. He died so that we do not have to die. And yet, all men– even the most faithful Christians– die- and we die for our own sins, THE SINS THAT JESUS SUPPOSEDLY TOOK ON HIM! So, Jesus physically died in our place, says Stevens, and yet, we still have to receive the wages of sin, physical death! Precisely where is “substitution” taking place?
Just ask yourself- AGAIN: What does substitution mean, anyway? What does “in the place of” mean. What does, “instead of” mean? Stevens affirms the true meaning of the words, but his doctrine denies it.
Since it is undeniably, experientially true, that all men die physically, even the most faithful Christian who is (ostensibly) under the power of the substitutionary physical death of Jesus, then it is unequivocally true that:
1. The substitutionary physical death of Christ has been 100 % ineffective. It has never prevented the physical death of even one Christian!
2. Jesus’ physical death was not substitutionary! HE DID NOT DIE PHYSICALLY TO PREVENT OUR PHYSICAL DEATH!
It is important at this juncture to keep in mind, again, that Stevens claims that God’s threat to Adam: “in the day that you eat you shall surely die,” was a one time only, never to be repeated, threat. Well, that means one of two things:
The substitutionary physical death of Christ was NOT to prevent our physical death the very day we sin. After all, if the threat of, “in the day you sin you will die” does not even apply today, then Christ’s physical death does not deliver us from that threat. But keep this in mind: Ed Stevens says that WE SHOULD DIE PHYSICALLY THE VERY DAY THAT WE SIN! But, how could this be true if the threat of dying the very day of sin was a one time threat, never to be repeated? Stevens has fatally contradicted himself- again.
The substitutionary physical death of Christ clearly does not prevent our “natural” death (non-penal in Stevens’ terminology). Of course, you must keep in mind that Stevens cannot avoid the fact that in his paradigm, all physical death is penal since we only die physically because we first die spiritually, and, we all die, “because we are all sinners.” He likes to refer to Adam’s death 900 years after the Garden as “natural” and yet, at the same time, he admits that Adam died as a direct result of sin! Well, that makes his death “penal,” since, “the wages of sin is death” – ostensibly physical death, per Stevens.
I will close this part #1 with some questions – in addition to the issues above – that I have posed to Stevens repeatedly, and have yet to receive so much as a keystroke – Little wonder:
#1 – If it is true that Jesus’ physical death on the cross was substitutionary (in the place of, instead of) those who believe in him, why is it that those in him today (and ever since that death) continue to die physically?
#2 – If it is true that only sin brings physical death (as you have affirmed repeatedly),
If it is true that the Christian is objectively forgiven of sin (that which alone brings physical death),
Why is it that the Christian still dies physically, since, through the blood of Christ, we have no sin, and thus, do not (should not) pay the “wages of sin”– i.e. physical death?
Pay close attention to how Stevens “responds” (Edit– after two days he had not hit a key to respond):
Will he do the “Passover” on these questions as he has always done?
Will he claim that he will answer them later – which he NEVER DOES?
Will he just continue to say that I misrepresent him, as is his usual modus operandi- and yet – he never offers proof of the claimed misrepresentations?
Will he refuse to answer, but, then insist that I must answer some diversionary questions, as he did with my three articles on his claim that “Resurrection No Longer Applies”?
To be continued. In the meantime, get a copy of my book: The Death of Adam / The Life of Christ. This book challenges long held views of the Atonement and the Substitutionary Death of Christ.
Source: Don K. Preston