substitution:- exposed and refuted


It is a common teaching among the churches that Christ died instead of us, as our substitute.  An often used illustration of this, is that we sinners have a debt to pay to God, and because we were unable to pay this debt, Jesus stepped in and paid it instead of us.  So, the debt is paid, and the debtor is allowed to go free.

There are major problems with this teaching, when compared with Scripture.  We examined these some time ago, and do so again here.


A major issue with the doctrine of Substitution, is that it specifically rules out the Bible doctrine of forgiveness.  The Bible does use the comparison of a debt that has been incurred, but according to the teaching of Christ, the debt is forgiven, and is not paid—whether it be by Jesus or anyone  else.  There are many passages of Scripture that illustrate the concept of forgiveness. Matthew chapter 18 deals with disputes between brethren, and concludes with the parable of the unmerciful servant. A certain king was owed a vast amount by one of his servants, who was unable to pay the debt. But then, “the servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt” (see Mat. 18:23-35).

Notice what happens here: the Lord does not require the debt to be paid at all, whether by the servant, or another man instead. The debt is simply forgiven: It is cancelled. His compassion is shown by loosing him from the debt, not by insisting that somebody else must pay in his place.

Again, in Luke chapter 7, we read of Messiah’s forgiveness of a particular woman in Simon the Pharisee’s house. Jesus spoke another parable:

“There was a certain creditor which had two debtors; the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged” (Lu. 7:41-43).

Again, we see the compassion of the creditor in forgiving, or as some versions render it, “cancelling”, the debt. He did not require someone else to pay it instead: it was simply cancelled: “he frankly forgave them both”.

We find then, that whereas the Bible speaks of the “cancelling” of debts being forgiven, the Substitution position is that the debt still had to be paid, and it was paid by Christ instead of us. And we can also see how that this had a direct bearing on our behaviour towards others: Messiah taught us to pray: … forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors: (Mat. 6:12). And again, the Apostle taught the same: “even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Col. 3:13). The forgiveness that we extend to others is not that we demand payment of a debt from another third party instead: rather, we cancel the debt, and as we forgive our debtors, even so we ask our Father in Heaven to forgive us.


In an online Facebook posting by the Tamworth Christadelphians, this errant teaching surfaces again, but in another form.  The traditional church teaching is that we have a debt which we cannot pay, and Christ pays it instead of us.  According to the Tamworth Christadelphians, however, our situation is like an exam that we are unable to pass, and Christ sits the exam instead of us.  So they write (emphasis ours):

“Despite technology against us we had a lovely talk this morning. We thought about results for an exam and a professor in a story who passed his students without needing to sit the exam.

We have already been prepared by God, we don’t deserve to pass but Jesus his Son sat the exam for us in our place and allowed us to pass and get us an A.

So we don’t need to worry, we need to stay ready and still turn up but the remember Jesus took our place.

So through this our fear can be removed and God can give us strength. It is not our own strength that gets us to where we need to get.  Be strengthened with all power Col 1 vs 12 Giving thanks to the father who has qualified us.

So our joy may be complete, not fear JOY.”

(Tamworth Christadelphians, Facebook, posted 17th May 2020)

We did respond to this posting online, but to date, they decline to reply.  The analogy being used is not one found in the Bible: we prefer Bible analogies and comparisons to home-made parables. One reason for this, is that home-made parables are generally woefully inadequate—with this example being a case in point.  The Bible does use the comparison of a schoolteacher instructing his pupils for an appointed time (see Galatians 3:24-4:3). But it does not anywhere use the analogy of Christ sitting an exam instead of us—anymore than it uses the comparison of Christ paying a debt instead of us.  Even by worldly standards, it would be intrinsically wrong for someone to sit an exam instead of us: it such a thing actually happened, the candidate would be immediately disqualified for cheating!

There is another aspect to this modern-day substitution theory.  That is, under this scenario, the candidate does not need to do anything: he passes the exam “without needing to sit the exam” * (but see note below).  But by contrast, in the system of salvation as instituted by our Maker, we have things to do as well as Jesus.  We participate in his victory because we are fighting the same warfare, to use a comparison that is in the Bible.  The Bible likens the walk and struggles of a believer to a soldier engaging in battle with an enemy—a warfare of faith (cp. 1 Tim. 1:18, Rom. 7:23)  The Lord Jesus Christ is the “Captain of our Salvation” (Heb. 2:10), and he has achieved the victory against the power of sin.  He has “spoiled principalities and powers” (Col. 2:15) and destroyed that which has the power of death (Heb. 2:14).  The victory is that of Christ (Rom. 7:24,25), but we can only participate in that victory if we are fighting the same warfare.  Just like a military general leading his army against the enemy, we are following his lead, as soldiers under his command (2 Tim. 2:3-4).  Our Captain has not won the war instead of us, but rather for us, so that we, as his soldiers in the same battle, can be victorious with him: “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57).  The situation is well expressed in the Christadelphian Magazine of 1870:

“The true believer is in Christ for the obtaining of the blessings promised, he is made to endorse and morally participate in the “condemnation of sin in the flesh,” which Jesus underwent in the “body prepared” for the purpose.—(Heb. 10:5)” (Christadelphian Magazine (1870)

The non-Biblical comparison of Jesus sitting an exam instead of us, and by this means gaining full marks for us is therefore gravely flawed in at least 2 points: 1. Christ is not our substitute, and 2. Nothing is required of the student to obtain the A Pass, whereas according to the Bible we must exert our energies in following our Master’s lead in order to benefit from his sacrifice.  We urge the Tamworth Christadelphians to reconsider their position, and refrain from publishing a theory that is not derived from Scripture, and which Christadelphians have long rejected.

Christopher Maddocks

*  Although we concede that it is stated in the scenario above: “we need to stay ready and still turn up …”. But this is an internal inconsistency of the home-made parable: either we have to sit the exam, or we do not.  If so, Christ has not taken our place, if not, there is no need to “still turn up,” for there is nothing for us to do: our substitute has done it all for us!  The claim is stated that we pass “without needing to sit the exam”, which is clearly flawed when compared with the Bible.