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The Idea of Substitution in the Doctrine of the Atonement

  • F. W. Camfield


“I Believe that we have to learn anew what the Holy Scriptures say and mean by substitution of Jesus Christ and satisfaction.” These words, spoken by Karl Barth in the course of a discussion on “The Christian as Witness”, provide much food for reflection. For if there is one conclusion which had come almost to be taken for granted in enlightened Christian quarters, it is that the idea of substitution has led theology on a wrong track; and that the word “substitution” must now be dropped from the doctrine of the Atonement as too heavily laden with misleading and even false connotations. By “liberal” or “modernist” theology the idea of substitution is of course rejected out of hand. And even the theology which prides itself on being “positive” and “evangelical” and which seeks to maintain lines of communication with the great traditional doctrines of atonement is on the whole disposed to reject it. And this, not merely on the ground that it holds implications which are irrational and morally offensive, but even and specifically on the ground that it is unscriptural. Thus Dr. Vincent Taylor as a result of an exhaustive examination of the “Idea of Atonement in the New Testament” gives it as his conclusion that the idea of substitution has no place in the New Testament writings; that in fact it is opposed to the fundamental teaching of the New Testament; that even St.



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1 God in Action, p. 123, Eng. Trans.

1 Christus Victor, p. x.

1 Ibid., p. 21.

2 Luther's Epistle to the Galatians: “The true rules of Christianity” — “Here is to be noted, that these three things, faith, Christ, acceptation or imputation, must be found together.”

1 See Luther's Epistle to the Galaiians on 3.13. The language, however, is dramatic and “psychological”.

1 The Forms of Belief, p. 135 ff.

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Scottish Journal of Theology
  • ISSN: 0036-9306
  • EISSN: 1475-3065
  • URL: /core/journals/scottish-journal-of-theology
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