The Atonement – Isaiah 53

14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. Hebrews 10:14

I spent 3 weeks having discussions with my Roman Catholic friends and family on the atonement of Christ. The Roman Catholic Churches position on the atonement is that Jesus Christ wasn’t literally punished by God. The centerpiece that started this discussion was Isaiah 53. The responses were so complex and long I am going to split this into multiple articles while trying to keep it simple as possible.

The Roman Catholic article I will be quoting from can be found here. The quotes from the article are in maroon.

Isaiah 53:4-8(NIV)

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression[a] and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.[b]

Verse 10: Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer (NIV)
Verse 10: Yet it pleased the Lord to [q]bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. (NKJV)

Summary: The RCC position is that Jesus wasn’t literally punished for our sins. However, they acknowledge His sacrifice and sufferings did atone for our sins but they are stored so-to-speak until we apply them. They don’t consider punishment had to happen for there to be atonement. In short, it was a sacrifice of ‘satisfaction’ offered up to the Father not a punishment.

Additionally, God the Father’s emotions specifically anger, vengeance, wrath are anthropomorphic (Tim Staples) or metaphoric (video link below). With respect to my RC friends I’m still not clear on the exact position of God’s emotions. The Roman Catholics I spoke to say God isn’t really mad at our sins, and God’s wrath wasn’t literally poured out on Jesus. When these words are used in scripture above is just metaphorical cause God doesn’t ‘experience’ or ‘express’ anger, wrath, or vengeance; and as they said “God can’t punish God.” When they spoke of God’s love though they didn’t go out of their way to say this emotion was metaphoric as much as they did God’s anger and wrath.

Part 1: Jesus wasn’t literally punished for our sins

The Roman Catholic teaching says that in Isaiah 53:5 God didn’t literally punish Jesus, and to even think that He was would make God unjust because Jesus was innocent.

The punishment for our peace was upon Him

RCC posits this(and the rest of the verses quoted) is NOT to be taken literally. The key to their entire reasoning is the punishment (or payments or reparations as they were putting it) due for our sins is essentially upon the sinner. To add, I was also told that not every sin requires punishment. The article continues:

Of course, as Catholics, while we hold that Jesus’ death was a sacrifice, we do agree that it was substitutionary. But we firmly reject the idea of penal substitution.

What they are saying here is Jesus sacrifice is valid for atonement but God didn’t literally ‘took up our pain and bore our sufferings’ for our sins.  He took our place but not by being punished. “He suffered along with us” I was told (I’m not sure how our sufferings are not upon Him but rather along with His). At this point we’ve essentially rewritten and read into Isaiah 53 that He hasn’t bore our suffering, shouldn’t consider Him punished(stricken), God didn’t smitten and afflict Him, that the punishment for our peace wasn’t literally upon Him, and the Lord didn’t literally lay on Him the iniquity of us all. The article goes on:

Since Jesus is God and God is perfect, how can God punish God? And assuming Jesus could somehow separate Himself from God, why would God punish a holy and pure being for our sins? Such an idea is entirely incompatible with our understanding of God.

What I’m hearing is since it doesn’t make sense to them, we conclude that it must be false and the scriptures must mean something else other than what it says. We do know that Jesus was mocked, beaten, flogged till His flesh tore off His skin, nails hammered into His flesh, pierced, and crucified, died and rose on the 3rd day. Isn’t this a punishment for crimes laid upon an innocent man? The author is saying why would GOD do this? Yet this is exactly what the Bible says! Scripture says that “He was smitten and afflicted by God v4. And that It pleased the Lord to bruise Him” or it was the Lord’s Will(niv) to bruise Him v10. God says that it was He Himself that did this according to His will(not mans). Jesus affirms this as well John 10:18. Like they stated it’s incompatible with Romes understanding of God so these verses cannot mean what they say.

“If it were possible for God the Son to be separated from God the Father, even for a moment, then he would not and could not be God.”

Here again we see “this doesn’t make sense, therefore it’s not true” reasoning. Our Jehovah’s Witness friends do this with the doctrines of the Trinity. I ran this article by a fellow brother in Christ who is also the Pastor of my church and He responded:

Did he not die then? If we think we can “reason” so tightly, Jesus is God, God cannot be separated from Jesus, and God cannot die, then Jesus must not have died. Was his death on the cross a ruse? We have to admit some mystery here. We have to confess, we are finite and cannot understand all things. What the scripture clearly teaches is that Jesus died on the cross, he was buried, and remained in death for 3 days. And he also rose from “the dead.” We find some understanding in the human nature. The essence of God cannot die. But the human nature did.

When we acknowledge that Jesus is God the Son, we also must reject any interpretation of Scripture that suggests that Jesus literally took all our sins onto himself. We can confidently do this because of the nature of sin

Amazingly He is arguing with what the scripture says And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.“, “for the transgression of my people he was punished.” The Words written in Isaiah 53 I think we can all agree that we are able to understand clearly. But we must reject this? We know what the terms “Smitten, afflicted, punishment, chastisement” mean but essentially we must redefine them by coming up with complex doctrines to explain these verses away. We can understand that these verses all say this is the work of God not man. I don’t understand how this interpretation is even a suggestion; it’s clear as could be. We have to conclude that this is simply a flat out denial of God’s Word.

I’m going to pause here, and I will continue on walking through this article but since this all started with Isaiah 53 The question I pose for my Roman Catholic friends/family is this:

If the punishment for our peace wasn’t literally upon Him, then what was upon Him for our peace?

I asked for a simple as possible exegesis of this. The best answer I got was that it was a satisfactory sacrifice, He atoned for our sins, it pleased God, and finally it was an offering up to the Father not a punishment down to the son. So Isaiah 53 doesn’t literally mean what it says. So lets examine both positions

We have the reformed position, fully rooted in God’s Word – no external sources.
A. God literally punished Jesus because the Bible; God’s infallible Word, says so.

OR The Roman Catholic interpretation:

B. “it was an offering up to the Father not a literal punishment down to the Son” – The Roman Catholic interpretation says God didn’t literally punish Jesus. God didn’t literally smitten and afflict Him. The punishment for our peace wasn’t literally upon Him. God wasn’t literally pleased to bruise Him. God couldn’t have bruised Him, or smitten Him, or afflicted Him, or punished Him.

So this leaves the question: Why did God say this if He didn’t mean it to be taken literally? Doesn’t this, in a sense, make God a liar? Couldn’t God have easily said:

the suffering, or offering up for our peace was offered up to the Father, but the reparations for our peace are upon the sinner and dependent on his/her cooperation

It seems to me if it was written this way we could understand this as well. So now how do we test the Roman Catholic interpretation vs. the Bible? As you know Rome rejects Sola Scriptura (scripture alone as the final authority) and asserts that the Roman Catholic Church is the final authority on scripture interpretation. So we either have to bow to Romes authority and say to ourselves “well, Rome said so, therefore it must be true” or ask our Roman Catholic friends if there’s an infallible interpretation of Isaiah 53:5 that supports this view other than articles, videos and other non-infallible sources.

From here I have to assume the Roman Catholic interpretation is to either totally ignore this Chapter of scripture. Simply because Rome is the final authority, and whatever she says is true even when in conflict with scripture.

I will continue this later but I pray God uses this article even if to simply reach at least One Roman Catholic. It is my hope for you to see that your Churches doctrines are in direct conflict with Holy Scriptures. If you’re loyalty is in Church and not in Christ and His Word then your loyalty it is misplaced.

The Bride(the Church) is subject to the groom(Christ) not the other way around. If you have any questions/concerns feel free to contact me. God bless!

Note: To my Roman Catholic friends and family. If anything I say here is in error feel free to contact me.


Quote from Pastor Stephen Wetmore, Trinity reformed Church: