Philemon and the Moral Influence Theory of the Atonement

Because of Romans 1-5 and 1 Cor 15:3ff., I believe that penal substitution is the central motif under which we should view the atonement. Just because other views are championed by men who deny or downplay penal substitution does not, however, mean that all of those other motifs are invalid. Christ certainly defeated the powers of the evil one (the Christus Victor view), and, yes, His death is an example (the moral influence view).

What kind of influence should the atonement have? Read these words Paul wrote to Philemon about Onesimus:

“If you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.” (ESV)

Christ’s substitutionary payment of our debt clearly had a moral influence on Paul. Paul was imitating His Lord.

I Can’t Help But Tie Everything to My Dissertation

My dissertation will, Lord willing, touch on just how far Paul’s imitation of His Lord is meant to be something we believers should imitate (1 Ths 1:6; 2 Ths 3:7; 1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; Php 3:17; cf. Eph 5:1; 1 Ths 2:14).

Incidentally, I also hope to spend some time examining what believers should do with statements like the very next verse in Philemon:

“I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.” (ESV)

Paul was not a dry person!

Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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