Continuing in the series of responses to J.H. McKenna, which begins here,
No system of jurisprudence can accept the innocent for the guilty, and so the substitutionary death of Jesus is not a moral idea. It is an idea based on pecuniary justice, of paying off a monetary fine for another person, which is permissible; but going to the gallows for another person is nowhere accepted.
This objection misses the point. It is not that we punished the innocent, it is that the innocent One took the punishment of the guilty of his own accord. The assertion that “the substitutionary death of Jesus is not a moral idea” is dependent upon moral qualifications that the person making the argument has yet to make.
The Apostle Paul makes a similar argument in his epistle to the Romans,
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die… (Romans 5:7, ESV)
Paul’s point is that a righteous person has no fear of judgment, and a good person someone would be willing to lay down their lives for because of the potential that is seen. However, the problem is that
[.…] all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,…(Romans 3:23, ESV)
What did the thief who was crucified next to Jesus say?
“[We] are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong. (Luke 23:41, ESV)”
This man recognized the injustice, the immoral act being perpetrated in the murder of an innocent man and, if he were not being crucified himself, might have even stepped in to take his place. It is immoral for us to punish the innocent in place of the guilty, but it is not unjust for God to accept the self-giving sacrifice of a righteous man, especially if that man is God himself, in their place. The inherent problem is that there is a confusion here and it’s evident in the argument: there is a category distinction between what is done in a state of sin and what put you in that state of sin, which is something that Paul picks up on in his Roman epistle where he writes,
“[…]you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience…(Romans 6:16, ESV)”
Paul’s point is this: we are going to be a slave to something, and as slaves we are bound to obey our master.
Slavery is often used metaphorically in the Bible to describe the spiritual condition of man. In man’s primeval rebellion, God “sold” mankind into a state of spiritual slavery to sin as an act of mercy (see this post) rather than simply, and justly I might add, taking his life for his rebellion, in hopes of man coming to his senses and returning to him. Rather than coming to his senses, man embraced his rebellion and his slavery to sin and God came to buy them back, to redeem those whom he desires to save from their sin.
God is the moral one in this story in sending his Son to pay the price necessary for total redemption: death. God can be perfectly just, condemning sin and accepting righteousness because the only righteous one, our kinsman redeemer, Jesus Christ, took the place of one rightfully condemned, shedding his blood, and giving his life as truly, “a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28, ESV).”
The “jurisprudence” here is the law that Christ came to fulfill, a law that clearly defined sin and rebellion against a holy and just God, what is found in the Torah, therefore this argument is refuted.