This question is a follow-up to my question, "Did Martin Luther teach penal substitution?"

The Wikipedia article on Philip Melanchthon states in its opening paragraphs:

Philip Melanchthon . . . (16 February 1497 – 19 April 1560), . . . was a German Lutheran reformer, collaborator with Martin Luther, the first systematic theologian of the Protestant Reformation, intellectual leader of the Lutheran Reformation, and an influential designer of educational systems.

He stands next to Luther and Calvin as a reformer, theologian, and molder of Protestantism. Along with Luther, he is the primary founder of Lutheranism, and is often deemed by historians to be its intellectual leader as contrasted with Martin Luther's rather simplistic views. They both denounced what they believed was the exaggerated cult of the saints, asserted justification by faith, . . . .

Under the subheading, "As theologian," the article states:

Melanchthon . . . furthermore reduced Luther's much richer view of redemption to that of legal satisfaction.

This suggests that Melanchthon, rather than Luther himself, may have been the origin of the common Protestant view that Luther's theology of justification and redemption revolved around the penal substitution theory of atonement—and of the ascendancy of that doctrine within Lutheranism generally. Indeed, this is the very thing suggested in footnote 10 on Wikipedia's "Penal substitution" article:

Gustaf Aulén, a critic of penal substitution theory, disputed in his 1931 book Christus Victor that Luther accepted penal substitution. 'Under Aulen's assessment, Martin Luther revitalized the Christus Victor paradigm. According to Aulen, however, beginning with Melanchthon himself, Luther's reappropriation of the classic theme was quickly lost within later Protestant circles as more objective, "Latin," theories were allowed to displace it.' (Paul R. Eddy and James Beilby, 'The Atonement: An Introduction', in P. R. Eddy and J. Beilby [eds], The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views [Downers Grove: IVP, 2006], p. 13) [italics added]

However, the Wikipedia article on Melanchthon does not go into any greater detail on his theology of justification, redemption, and atonement. So my question is:

Did Philip Melanchthon teach penal substitution?

Whatever other sources an answer may use, please provide direct quotations from Melanchthon's own works to support your answer.

(Note: Answers regarding Luther's teachings on penal substitution should be posted under the related question linked above. Also related: "Who first clearly formulated the penal substitution theory of atonement?")

1 Answer 1


A great place to look for this is Melancthon's Defense of the Augsburg Confession. As we'll see, he does not always use language specific to penal substitution, but the themes of Christ's sacrifice appeasing God's wrath and acting as a forensic substitute for sinners are certainly there.

Christ makes satisfaction and his mercy is set against God's wrath:

[Christ] was given for us in order that He might make satisfaction for the sins of the world, and has been appointed as the [only] Mediator and Propitiator. (Part 2)

Thus, because faith, which freely receives the remission of sins, sets Christ, the Mediator and Propitiator, against God's wrath, it does not present our merits or our love (Part 2)

Therefore this Propitiator thus benefits us, when by faith we apprehend the mercy promised in Him, and set it against the wrath and judgment of God. (Part 5)

The appeasement of God's wrath:

The wrath of God cannot be appeased if we set against it our own works, because Christ has been set forth as a Propitiator, so that, for His sake, the Father may become reconciled to us. (Part 5)

The application of Christ's righteousness to sinners:

Moreover, in this passage [Romans 5], to justify signifies, according to forensic usage, to acquit a guilty one and declare him righteous, but on account of the righteousness of another, namely, of Christ, which righteousness of another is communicated to us by faith. (Part 9)

The second matter in a propitiator is, that his merits have been presented as those which make satisfaction for others, which are bestowed by divine imputation on others, in order that through these, just as by their own merits, they may be accounted righteous. [...] Thus the merits of Christ are bestowed upon us, in order that, when we believe in Him, we may be accounted righteous by our confidence in Christ's merits as though we had merits of our own. (Part 26)

to be justified does not mean that a righteous man is made from a wicked man, but to be pronounced righteous in a forensic sense (Part 8)

And Christ as the price for our sins:

But the Fathers knew the promise concerning Christ that God for Christ's sake wished to remit sins. Therefore, since they understood that Christ would be the price for our sins, they knew that our works are not a price for so great a matter [could not pay so great a debt]. (Part 3)

And finally, Christ the victim bearing the punishment of sin on our behalf:

the Law condemns all men, but Christ, because without sin He has borne the punishment of sin, and been made a victim for us has removed that right of the Law to accuse and condemn those who believe in Him, because He Himself is the propitiation for them for whose sake we are now accounted righteous. (Part 6)

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