In a previous post of mine here I had discovered that Jews did not view their sacrifice of atonement in terms of the lamb paying for a debt of the sinner, or die in place of the sinner. But I had not considered a few of these related thoughts:
The penal substitution doctrine works well for those who think in legal terms. It is a way to explain how a just God could extend love towards us sinners. It's a way of making things fair and even. God's wrath was directed towards Jesus instead of towards us. Jesus paid the price of our sin. However I think it is ironic that evangelical protestants who hold strongly to this are the ones who claim to be less legalistic than other traditions.
1) Contrary to popular belief, the Mosaic sacrifices did not operate in a Penal Substitution framework.
1a) Nowhere does the Mosaic Law indicate the punishment for sin was transferred to an animal or God's Wrath being poured out upon it.
1b) Places like Leviticus 5:5-13 talk about what the guilty must bring for a sacrificial sin offering. In this description, the Law teaches that if the sinner cannot afford a lamb he must bring two pigeons. However, it continues, if he cannot afford two pigeons he must bring a bag of fine flour. If Penal Substitution were in mind here, allowing a bag of flour instead of a animal is illogical.
1c) The “scapegoat” was part of one of the most important ceremonies for the Israelites, the Day of Atonement, described in Lev. 16. The term “scapegoat” often conjures up images of an innocent party taking the blame and suffering the consequences for the sins of a guilty party. Yet, the description of the scapegoat in Lev. 16 (vv7-10 & 20-22) shows that this goat is never the object of wrath but instead released out into the wilderness. This is quite contrary to the notion of Penal Substitution.
1d) The Passover was a very important event in Jewish history, and St Paul tells us that Jesus is the Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). Moses gives the instructions for the Passover to the Israelites in Exodus 12 (esp. vv1-13). Rather than being an object of wrath, the eating of the lamb and applying its blood to the door fame of the house is what turned away God's wrath. This directly corresponds to us partaking in the Eucharist and having Christ Blood applied to our souls, making them pure and pleasing in God's sight (Heb 9:14). It was the blood (merits) of the Lamb, not the death itself, which turned away God's wrath. This also does not fit a Penal Substitution framework.
1e) All through Leviticus (which deals heavily with sacrifices) there are numerous references to sacrifices being described as “an aroma pleasing to the Lord” (e.g. Lev. 1:9, 13, 17; 2:2). These sacrifices are pleasing to God because they are prepared 'the way He likes it,' He is pleased when such things are done in obedience to His teachings. It is no mistake that the sacrifice of Jesus is also described as a “fragrant aroma,” because He acted in love and obedience (Eph 5:1f). This is obviously not Penal Substitution, for this appeasing and pleasing God is not done by unleashing wrath but on account of obedience. Also, Eph. 5:1f calls Christians to imitate Christ's sacrifice, yet Penal Substitution is specifically intended so Christians wont have to imitate Christ's example of sacrifice.
If the Jews did not view their sacrificial lambs as payment for their sin debt, and there are no verses that talk about atonement as Jesus paying for our debt - I just see no need to use this language either.
And I'd rather view God as one who loves us even when we sin, just like I am capable of loving my kids even when they sin. I'm not saying everyone goes to Heaven when they die - I'm just not sure its a good idea to view God as one who needs to kill His son to appease His wrath.