Penal Substitution in Church History

Michael J. Vlach | May 24, 2010

Recently, at least since the eighteenth-century liberalism gained a place in Protestantism, the penal-substitution view of Christ’s atonement has come under attack. The claim that the doctrine was unknown in the ancient church has emerged along with the idea that such a teaching was invented by the Reformers. The fact that the first thousand years of ancient Christianity frequently espoused the teaching that Jesus suffered death, punishment, and a curse for fallen humanity as the penalty for human sin shows the falsity of such a claim. The fact that early Christians supported other views of the atonement did not exclude the possibility of their supporting penal substitution also. Other views of the atonement include the classic/ransom, the satisfaction, the moral influence, and the governmental theories. Without discussing penal substitution thoroughly, the following church fathers and writings expressed their support for the theory: Ignatius, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistle to Diognetus, Justin Martyr, Eusebius of Caesarea, Eusebius of Emesa, Hilary of Poitiers, Athanasius, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, Ambrose of Milan, John Chrysostom, Augustine of Hippo, Cyril of Alexandria, Severus of Antioch, and Oecumenius. Martin Luther wrote during the second Christian millennium, but he too endorsed penal substitution. Available writings show clearly that the early church supported a penal-substitution view of Christ’s death.

Read the full article.

Michael J. Vlach Professor of Theology B.S., University of Nebraska-Lincoln M.Div., The Master’s Seminary Ph.D., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Michael J. Vlach, Ph.D. is Professor of Theology at The Master's Seminary in Sun Valley, California where he has been teaching full time since 2006. Michael has a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Nebraska and a Master of Divinity degree from The Master's Seminary in Sun Valley, California. He also earned his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Michael specializes in the areas of Systematic Theology, Historical Theology, Apologetics, and World Religions. His specific area of expertise concerns the nation Israel and issues related to refuting the doctrine of Replacement Theology. Dr. Vlach was awarded the "Franz-Delitzsch Prize 2008" for his dissertation, "The Church as a Replacement of Israel: An Analysis of Supersessionism." He is also the author of five books: Has the Church Replaced Israel?: A Theological Evaluation (B&H Academic, 2010) 20 Tips for Writing Seminary Papers (Theological Studies Press, 2010) The Church as a Replacement of Israel: An Analysis of Supersessionism (Peter Lang, 2009) Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths (Theological Studies Press, 2008) Philosophy 101: The Big Idea for the 101 Most Important People and Ideas in Philosophy (Lampion Press, 2016) Dr. Vlach is also the Founder and President of, a cutting-edge website devoted to providing quality articles, news, and information related to Christian theology. Michael speaks regularly at churches and conferences and has appeared on several national radio and television broadcasts including The History Channel. Michael is also a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and has taught various courses in Theology for Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. To learn more about Dr. Vlach visit

Connect With TMS

apply icon
contact icon
visit icon
find a church icon
give icon