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date: 02 March 2021

Abstract and Keywords

The atonement is one of the central and defining doctrines of Christian theology. Yet the nature of the atonement – how it is that Christ's life and death on the cross actually atone for human sin – remains a theological conundrum. This article offers a new argument for an old theory of the atonement, namely, penal substitution. First, it sets out the theological context for the argument. This involves giving some account of alternative theories of the atonement in the tradition, and why penal substitution might be thought a particularly appealing way of thinking about the atonement. The article then presents an argument for a version of penal substitution that involves the application of an idea found in some Augustinian accounts of the transmission of sin from Adam to his progeny. At the end of this exposition, it offers some brief comments on the metaphysics undergirding the theology of this argument. The final section discusses several theological and philosophical objections to this reasoning.

Keywords: Christian theology, Christ, death, atonement, human sin, crucifixion, penal substitution

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