Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution

By Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach
Wheaton, IL : Crossway (2007). 373 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
20.1 (Spring 2009) : 109-111

All three authors of Pierced for Our Transgressions are associated with Oak Hill Theological College (London). Jeffery is a student preparing for ministry, Ovey is Principal and Lecturer in Doctrine and Apologetics, and Sach is a graduate. Disturbed at criticism of penal substitution by avowed evangelicals, these three men collaborated on this book with the goal of presenting the biblical teaching. In their first chapter (“Introduction,” 21-32), they identify both the opponents and the advocates of the doctrine. This section provides a treasure trove of resources and describes their role in the debate over the atonement.

This two-part volume first lays out the biblical case for penal substitution and then outlines every available objection, confronting the claims head on. Chapter 2 (“Searching the Scriptures: The Biblical Foundations of Penal Substitution,” 33- 99) establishes the biblical basis for penal substitution. Key OT passages examined include Exodus 12 (the Passover), Leviticus 16 (the Day of Atonement), and Isa 52:13–53:12. The treatment consists of careful interpretation with an eye on the Hebrew text. For the NT, texts in Mark, John, and Romans precede the handling of Gal 3:10-13, 1 Pet 2:21-25 and 3:18. The authors even interact with the New Perspective viewpoint regarding the Galatian texts (90-93).

Chapter 3 (“Assembling the Pieces: The Theological Framework for Penal Substitution,” 100-48) sets the doctrine within the framework of Christian theology, tying it to major biblical themes and demonstrating its centrality. Jeffery, Ovey, and Sach commence with creation and its implications for the doctrine of penal substitution (105-10). Then they develop the implications from “decreatio n,” especially in regard to the denial of divine goodness and truthfulness (110-17). That topic leads logically into a discussion of the consequences of sin (118-24), including the nature of death, the “second death,” and God’s wrath. Following a brief examination of the implications of truth, goodness, justice, and salvation (124-26), the authors explore the implications of the relationships within the Trinity (126-32), then wrap up the chapter with a presentation of the issues of redemption itself (132- 48) as unfolded in the gift of the incarnate Son, His victory, the doctrines of reconciliation and ransom, and the believer’s union with Christ. Throughout this chapter, penal substitution coheres perfectly with the various biblical topics and doctrines.

Next, the authors focus on pastoral application of the doctrine and its implications for key issues in Christian living (Chapter 4, “Exploring the Implications: The Pastoral Importance of Penal Substitution,” 149-60). God’s love, truthfulness, and justice, as revealed in penal substitution, produce assurance, confidence, and passion in the believer’s life. In addition, a proper biblical understanding of the doctrine creates honesty and realism with regard to sin’s character and danger.

The final chapter in Part One (“Surveying the Heritage: The Historical Pedigree of Penal Substitution,” 161-204) develops documented evidence of adherence to the doctrine by key figures throughout the history of the church. Twenty different individuals, from Justin Martyr (ca. A.D. 100-165) to J. I. Packer (b. 1926), reveal the broad acceptance and fervent defense of penal substitution by prominent church leaders and theologians. The survey concludes with brief statements about the stances of the UCCF (Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship) and the Evangelical Alliance (200-203).

Part Two proceeds to answer the objections of the critics of penal substitution. A brief “Introduction to the Debate” occupies Chapter 6 (205-7). Chapters 7 through 12 classify the various objections under six headings: “Penal Substitution and the Bible” (208-17), “Penal Substitution and Culture” (218-25), “Penal Substitution and Violence” (226-39), “Penal Substitution and Justice” (240- 78), “Penal Substitution and Our Understanding of God” (279-306), and “Penal Substitution and the Christian Life” (307-24). Insofar as possible, the authors present these objections in the words of their various spokespersons. They refrain from caricaturing these opponents of penal substitution, exercising fairness and accuracy in their representations. Recent critics are given priority of place in stating the objections. Jeffery, Ovey, and Sach have succeeded admirably in being objective and avoiding ad hominem argumentation. Yet, they have not shirked honest confrontation. In Chapter 13 (“A Final Word,” 325-28), the authors challenge what they term “The Vague Objection” and “The Emotional Objection.”

An appendix (“A Personal Note to Preachers,” 329-36), an informative bibliography (337-51), and helpful indexes (351-73) conclude the volume. The appendix pleads with preachers to select their illustrations with care, being diligent not to extend them beyond the biblical truth regarding penal substitution. The authors list seven wisdom-filled guidelines for the choice and use of illustrations (334-35).

Pierced for Our Transgressionsdeserves the attentive reading of every pastor, preacher, teacher, and seminarian. In the present debate it belongs at the top of everyone’s reading list.