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Penal Substitution and Isaiah 53:10

According to Calvinists, Christ took punishment and wrath from God in our place. This theory is known as the doctrine of Penal Substitution and stems from John Calvin. This seems to be the most popular of all false doctrines as it is taught in much of Christianity today. This doctrine, however, which turns God into a wrathful, schizophrenic deity, identical to the false gods of paganism, is not found in the Greek Old or New Testaments or the early Church writings. So where did this false doctrine come from?

The only verse in the whole Bible that can be interpreted towards Christ appeasing God’s wrath toward us by taking our punishment in our place is Isaiah 53:10 as found in the Masoretic (Hebrew) Text of the Old Testament:

Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put [him] to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see [his] seed, he shall prolong [his] days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. (KJV)

The Greek Septuagint, however, which was the Old Testament text in use during Jesus’ time reads:

The Lord also is pleased to purge Him from His stroke. If you give an offering for sin, Your soul shall see a long-lived seed; (CAB)

According to the early Church, the Jews were altering the text of the Old Testament removing, or tweaking, verses that pointed to Christ or prophecies He fulfilled. Since Isaiah 53:10 reads vastly different in the Greek, which is nearly 10 centuries older than the Hebrew, we can be sure that this is one of those passages that the Jews altered. The Jewish modification turns the text from one suffering servant (Christ) whom God is pleased to heal from His punishment, to the physical nation of Israel being the suffering servant whom God is pleased to punish.

This has resulted in a pagan interpretation of atonement by some Protestants, like John Calvin, who use the Masoretic text and attempt to place a prophecy of Christ into an altered text. This in itself shows us that this reading is false. Prophecy does not, and cannot, come from an altered text and still be accurate.

For example, notice that the Masoretic version reads that it, “pleased” God to “bruise” or punish him (Jesus) and “put him to grief.” It also implies that by faith we are to accept or “make his soul an offering for sins.” The Masoretic Version does support Calvin’s Penal Substitution theory. The text, however, goes on to make little sense as it says, “he (Jesus) shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days.” Another red flag that the Masoretic reading is incorrect.

In contrast to this, the Greek reads that God was pleased to “purge,” or cleanse, Him from His stroke. This is the complete opposite of what the Masoretic reads. God is clearly not the one punishing Jesus, but the one purging Him from the evil inflicted by man.

As already mentioned, the Penal Substitution theory is absent from the writings of the early Church as their interpretation and quotations of Isaiah 53:10, follow the Septuagint and not the Masoretic text:

And the Lord is pleased to purify him by stripes. If ye make an offering for sin, your soul shall see a long-lived seed. And the Lord is pleased to relieve Him of the affliction of His soul, to show Him light, and to form Him with understanding – Clement of Rome, First Epistle to the Corinthians, Chapter XVI.—Christ as an Example of Humility.

And I will give the wicked for His burial, and the rich for His death; because He did no violence, neither was any deceit in His mouth. And the Lord is pleased to cleanse Him from the stripe. – Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter LI — The Majesty of Christ.

And the Lord wills to purify Him from affliction. – Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter XIII


In the Greek Septuagint we see the true reading of Isaiah 53:10. The punishment Christ went through on the cross was placed on him by us rather than God, and if we “give an offering for sin,” that is faith in Jesus and true repentance (metanoia), our souls shall receive eternal life, or a prolonged seed, as well. This reading makes much more sense and follows the true character of God as opposed to making Him into a cruel and unfair deity akin to paganism. In addition, this reading supports the early Church doctrines of Christus Victor and Moral Influence theories of atonement.

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