For the love of Christ constrains us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died.
In a vigorous Fulcrum article entitled ‘The Cross and the Caricatures: a response to Robert Jenson, Jeffrey John, and a new volume entitled Pierced for Our Transgressions’, Tom Wright argues that in order to make sense of the idea of ‘penal substitution’ we must locate it
within the biblical world, the Old Testament world, within which the creator God, faced with a world in rebellion, chose Israel - Abraham and his family - as the means of putting everything right, and, when Israel itself had rebelled, promised to set that right as well and so to complete the purpose of putting humans right and thus setting the whole created order back the right way up.
This is broadly correct, though I think he tends to overstate the extent to which Israel was chosen ‘as the means of putting everything right’. Wright then makes an emphatic statement about Jesus’ substitutionary role:
It is because Jesus, as Israel’s representative Messiah, was therefore the representative of the whole human race, that he could appropriately become its substitute. (Wright’s italics)
This is supported by reference to 2 Corinthians 5:14, 21: the Christ who was ‘made sin’ (or a ‘sin offering’) died for all, therefore all died. Wright does not explain how Paul’s logic works here - the argument is only summarily stated. But I would question the conclusion that Paul sees Christ in his death as a substitute for the ‘whole human race’. I think that here, though less clearly than in Romans 3:22-26, the logic of Christ’s death for all relates primarily, and perhaps even exclusively, to Israel as the people of God.
The reasons for this, very briefly, are as follows. i) Sacrifice in Old Testament thought is always for the sake of God’s chosen people, so we would naturally expect the logic of sacrifice to bring those parameters with it. ii) If Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is behind Paul’s thought here, it speaks of the servant’s suffering because of the sins of Israel. iii) The all for whom Christ died are the all who have died, which makes it difficult to think that Paul at this moment presents this as a death for the whole world. It is a death for that community that dies and lives in Christ. The argument that Paul is thinking of all who have died ‘in Adam’ (e.g. Barnett, Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 289-290) really does not work. iv) The all who have died in Christ also participate in his life (cf. 2 Cor. 5:4, 15); they will be raised with him (4:14); they become ‘new creation’ (5:17). These are images of renewed Israel. The point is that the individual believer has become caught up in the story about Israel as it is encapsulated in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
So I would say that in Paul’s understanding Jesus died for the sake of, or in the place of, Israel under the wrath of God, and that under this narrative it makes sense to speak of Christ’s death as a matter of ‘penal substitutionary atonement’. But we should hesitate to universalize the argument. He died not for every individual but - this is the thought that lies at the heart of Romans - for the sake of the promise to Abraham when the vehicle of that promise faced destruction.
Of course, because the people of the promise has been saved through Christ’s act of faithfulness, Paul can appeal to the ‘world’ to be reconciled to God and become incorporated into that restored community (5:19-20). In a secondary or extended sense, therefore, it can be said that Jesus died for all humanity, but the specific logic of substitution should really be confined to the narrative about the people of God under judgment. Then it becomes a question of how we understand the conditions of YHWH’s covenant with Israel as set out, for example, in Deuteronomy 28.