World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Atonement in Christianity


Atonement in Christianity

In sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus,[2] which made possible the reconciliation between God and his creation. Within Christianity there are, historically, three[3] or four[4] main theories for how such atonement might work:

Other theories include recapitulation theory, the "shared atonement" theory[5] and scapegoat theory.

The English word 'atonement' originally meant "at-one-ment", i.e. being "at one", in harmony, with someone.[6] It is used to describe the saving work that God did through Christ to reconcile the world to himself, and also of the state of a person having been reconciled to God.[2][7] Throughout the centuries, Christians have used different metaphors and given differing explanations of the atonement to express how the atonement might work.

  • Janowski, Bernd. "Atonement." In The Encyclopedia of Christianity, edited by Erwin Fahlbusch and Geoffrey William Bromiley, 152-154. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1999. ISBN 0802824137
  • Thomas, G. Michael. The Extent of the Atonement: a Dilemma for Reformed Theology, from Calvin to the Consensus, in series, Paternoster Biblical and Theological Monographs (Carlisle, Scotland: Paternoster Publishing, 1997) ISBN 0-85364-828-X

Further reading

  • Chalke, Steve. Cross Purposes: Biggest Christian conference splits amid growing atonement debate. In Christianity Today, July, 2007.
  • Chalke, Steve. The Lost Message of Jesus (London: Zondervan; 2003)
  • Chalke, Steve. The Redemption of the Cross. In The Atonement Debate: Papers From the London Symposium on the Theology of Atonement (eds. Tidball, Hilborn, and Thacker), 2008, pp. 34–45.
  • Denney, James. The Atonement and the Modern Mind. London: Hodder and Stoughton (1903).
  • Paul Fiddes, Past event and present salvation: the Christian idea of atonement (London: Darton, Longman, & Todd, 1989)
  • Finlan, Stephen. The Background and Content of Paul's Cultic Atonement Metaphors. (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature (SBL); 2004)
  • Finlan, Stephen. Options on Atonement in Christian Thought. (Minnesota: Liturgical Press; 2007)
  • Finlan, Stephen. Problems With Atonement. (Minnesota: Liturgical Press; 2005)
  • Finlan, Stephen. "Spiritualization of Sacrifice in Paul and Hebrew" in Ritual and Metaphor, edited by Christian A. Eberhart (Atlanta: SBL; 2011)
  • Kim, Jintae. The Concept of Atonement in 1 John: A Redevelopment of the Second Temple Concept of Atonement (2003)
  • Kim, Jintae. The Concept of Atonement in Hellenistic Thought and 1 John (2001)
  • Kim, Jintae. The Concept of Atonement in Early Rabbinic Thought and the New Testament Writings (2001)
  • Kim, Jintae. Targum Isaiah 53 and the New Testament Concept of Atonement (2008)
  • Kim, Jintae. The Concept of Atonement in the Gospel of John (2009)
  • Rashdall, Hastings. The Idea of Atonement in Christian Theology. (London: Macmillan, 1919)
  • Nonviolent Atonement and the Victory of Christ
  • Philosophy and Christian Theology > Atonement from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • "Atonement" in the Jewish Encyclopedia
  • "The Doctrine of Atonement" from the Catholic Encyclopedia
  • "Atonement" from the Christian Cyclopedia (Lutheran)
  • Articles on the Atonement (Calvinist/Reformed)
  • Historical Opinions as to the Nature of Christ's Atoning Death (Arminian/Wesleyan)
  • The Atonement of Christ (Latter-day Saint)
  • Online academic articles on atonement
  • The Relationship of the Atonement
  • Wallace, A.J., Rusk, R.D. Moral Transformation: The Original Christian Paradigm of Salvation (New Zealand: Bridgehead, 2011) ISBN 978-1-4563-8980-2

External links and Bibliography

  1. ^ atonement. Unabridged. Random House, Inc. (accessed: January 15, 2011): '2. (sometimes initial capital letter) Theology. the doctrine concerning the reconciliation of God and humankind ...'
  2. ^ a b atonement. Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 11th Edition. Retrieved October 03, 2012: '2. (often capital) Christian theol a. the reconciliation of man with God through the life, sufferings, and sacrificial death of Christ b. the sufferings and death of Christ'
  3. ^ a b Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement, Gustaf Aulen, 1931
  4. ^ Vincent Taylor, The Cross of Christ (London: Macmillan & Co, 1956), p. 71-2
  5. ^ In which the atonement is spoken of as shared by all. To wit, God sustains the Universe. Therefore if Jesus was God in human form, when he died, we all died with him, and when he rose from the dead, we all rose with him. See Jeremiah, David. 2009. Living With Confidence in a Chaotic World, pp. 96 & 124. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.; Massengale, Jamey. 2013.Renegade Gospel, The Jesus Manifold. Amazon, Kindle.
  6. ^ Niels-erik A. Andreasen, 'Atonement/Expiation in the Old Testament' in W. E. Mills (ed.), Mercer dictionary of the Bible (Mercer University Press, 1990)
  7. ^ Matthew George Easton, 'Atonement' in Illustrated Bible Dictionary (T. Nelson & Sons, 1897).
  8. ^ Ward, K. (2007) Christianity – a guide for the perplexed. SPCK, London, p. 48- 51
  9. ^ A. J. Wallace, R. D. Rusk, Moral Transformation: The Original Christian Paradigm of Salvation (New Zealand: Bridgehead, 2011)
  10. ^ Michael Green, The Empty Cross of Jesus (Eastbourne: Kingsway, 2004; first published 1984), p. 64-5: 'The simplest and most obvious understanding of the cross is to see it as the supreme example....This is a favourite theme in the early Fathers, as H.E.W. Turner showed in The Patristic Doctrine of Redemption....It can scarcely be denied that much of the second century understanding of the cross was frankly exemplarist.'
  11. ^ J. F. Bethune-Baker, An introduction to the early history of Christian doctrine to the time of the Council of Chalcedon (London: Methuen & Co, 1903), p. 351-2 : 'From this review of the teaching of the Church it will be seen that... in the earliest centuries... the main thought is that man is reconciled to God by the Atonement, not God to man. The change, that is, which it effects is a change in man rather than a change in God. It is God's unchangeable love for mankind that prompts the Atonement itself, is the cause of it, and ultimately determines the method by which it is effected.'
  12. ^ Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement. Gustaf Aulen. "All satisfactory accounts of the atonement...begin, but do not end, with the moral influence theory..."
  13. ^ H. N. Oxenham, The Catholic doctrine of the atonement (London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green, 1865), p. xliv,114
  14. ^ H. N. Oxenham, The Catholic doctrine of the atonement (London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green, 1865), p. 114
  15. ^ D. Smith, The atonement in the light of history and the modern spirit (London: Hodder and Stoughton), p. 96-7: 'THE FORENSIC THEORY...each successive period of history has produced its peculiar type of soteriological doctrine...the third period--the period ushered in by the Reformation.'
  16. ^ Vincent Taylor, The Cross of Christ (London: Macmillan & Co, 1956), p. 71-2: '...the four main types, which have persisted throughout the centuries. The oldest theory is the Ransom Theory...It held sway for a thousand years. [...] The Forensic Theory is that of the Reformers and their successors.'
  17. ^ L. W. Grensted, A Short History of the Doctrine of the Atonement (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1920), p. 191: 'Before the Reformation only a few hints of a Penal theory can be found.'
  18. ^ a b H. N. Oxenham, The Catholic doctrine of the atonement (London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green, 1865), p. 112-3,119: '...we may pause to sum up briefly the main points of teaching on Christ's work of redemption to be gathered from the patristic literature of the first three centuries as a whole. And first, as to what it does not contain. There is no trace, as we have seen, of the notions of vicarious satisfaction, in the sense of our sins being imputed to Christ and His obedience imputed to us, which some of the Reformers made the very essence of Christianity; or, again, of the kindred notion that God was angry with His Son for our sakes, and inflicted on Him the punishment due to us ; nor is Isaiah s prophecy interpreted in this sense, as afterwards by Luther; on the contrary, there is much which expressly negatives this line of thought. There is no mention of the justice of God, in the forensic sense of the word; the Incarnation is in variably exclusively ascribed to His love; the term satisfaction does not occur in this connection at all, and where Christ is said to suffer for us, huper (not anti) is the word always used. It is not the payment of a debt, as in St. Anselm's Cur Deus Homo, but the restoration of our fallen nature, that is prominent in the minds of these writers, as the main object of the Incarnation. They always speak, with Scripture, of our being reconciled to God, not of God being reconciled to us.' [p. 112-3]; 'His [Jesus'] death was now [in the Reformation period], moreover, for the first time viewed as a vicarious punishment, inflicted by God on Him instead of on us.' [p. 119]
  19. ^ J. I. Packer, What did the Cross Achieve? The Logic of Penal Substitution (Tyndale Biblical Theology Lecture, 1973): '... Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Melanchthon and their reforming contemporaries were the pioneers in stating it [i.e. the penal substitutionary theory]...What the Reformers did was to redefine satisfactio (satisfaction), the main mediaeval category for thought about the cross. Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo?, which largely determined the mediaeval development, saw Christ’s satisfactio for our sins as the offering of compensation or damages for dishonour done, but the Reformers saw it as the undergoing of vicarious punishment (poena) to meet the claims on us of God’s holy law and wrath (i.e. his punitive justice).'
  20. ^ See for example, John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.15.5-8
  21. ^ a b Trammel, Madison, 'Cross Purposes' in Christianity Today, 2 Jul 2007. (accessed 20/12/10)
  22. ^ J. Kenneth Grider, The Governmental Theory.
  23. ^ James F. McGrath, 'What's Wrong With Penal Substitution?' on Exploring Our Matrix Friday, December 14, 2007 (accessed 30/12/10)
  24. ^ Mark M. Mattison, The Meaning of the Atonement (accessed 30/12/10). See section entitled Substitution or Participation?
  25. ^ J. Kenneth Grider, The Governmental Theory: 'At the same time, [the governmental theory] is not so eclectic that it has any affinity for the main elements of two of the major Atonement theories: the payment of a debt in the `satisfaction' theory; and Christ's being punished, as in the `punishment' theory'; '...the governmental theory cannot incorporate into itself the understanding that Christ paid the penalty for us, or that He paid a debt for us...'.
  26. ^ a b J. K. Mozley, The doctrine of the atonement (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916), p. 94-5: 'The same or similar words may point to the same or similar ideas; but not necessarily so, since a word which has been at one time the expression of one idea, may, to a less or greater extent, alter its meaning under the influence of another idea. Hence it follows that the preservation of a word does not, as a matter of course, involve the preservation of the idea which the word was originally intended to convey. In such respects no doctrine demands more careful treatment than that of the Atonement.'
  27. ^ Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence, It Is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2010), p. 15: 'What we hope to do in the fourteen expositional messages in this book is simply to show that the doctrine of penal substitution is clearly taught in the Bible' -- compare with title of book: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement.
  28. ^ Mark David Baker (ed), Proclaiming the scandal of the cross (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006): '...many assume that "substitutionary atonement" is merely a shorthand way to refer to "penal substitutionary atonement." [...] Substitution is a broad term that one can use with reference to a variety of metaphors.'
  29. ^ Derek Flood, Penal Substitution vs. Christus Victor (accessed 31/12/10): 'This hurtful image of God is largely based on a way of understanding the cross that is known as "Vicarious Atonement", "Penal Substitution", or "Satisfaction-Doctrine".'
  30. ^ John Launchbury, Change us, not God (WCF Publishing, 2009), p. 7: '...Anselm...introduced the Satisfaction Theory'
  31. ^ D. Flood, 'Substitutionary atonement and the Church Fathers' in Evangelical Quarterly 82.2 (2010), p. 141,143,153
  32. ^ Vincent Taylor, The Cross of Christ (London: Macmillan & Co, 1956), p. 31. Compare J. I. Packer: 'It would ... clarify discussion if all who hold that Jesus by dying did something for us which we needed to do but could not, would agree that they are regarding Christ’s death as substitutionary, and differing only on the nature of the action which Jesus performed in our place and also, perhaps, on the way we enter into the benefit that flows from it.' ('What did the Cross Achieve? The Logic of Penal Substitution' [1973])
  33. ^ D. W. Snyder Belousek, Atonement, Justice, and Peace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), p. 96 n. 2: 'James states that "historic orthodox Christianity" rests upon the doctrine of "vicarious atonement." As such, we agree -- that Christ died "for us" is the ancient apostolic faith reflected in the orthodox creeds. But as to the vicarious character of this "for us," James narrows the idea of vicarious atonement to penal substitution...'.
  34. ^ Theology and Narrative (Oxford: OUP, 1993), p. 248: 'Nor does Frei ever explain what he means by the word "vicarious," which is especially puzzling in light of his apparent rejection of the notion (or at least one notion) of "penal substitution," with which the term "vicarious" is often synonymous...'
  35. ^ Cf. D. Flood, 'Substitutionary Atonement and the Church Fathers' in Evangelical Quarterly 82.2 (2010), p. 144: 'It is not enough to simply identify substitutionary or even penal themes in the writings of the church fathers, and assume that this is an endorsement of the Reformed understanding of penal substitution. Instead, one must look at how a patristic author is using these concepts within their own understanding of the atonement and ask: what salvic purpose does Christ bearing our suffering, sin, and death have for this author? Rather than simply ‘proof-texting’ we need to seek to understand how these statements fit into the larger thought-world of an author. In short, it is a matter of context. The main task of this essay therefore is to explore the context in which the church fathers understood substitutionary atonement.'
  36. ^ H. N. Oxenham, ‘‘The Catholic doctrine of the atonement’’ (London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green, 1865), p. 114-118
  37. ^ E.g., James Bethune-Baker, An introduction to the early history of Christian doctrine to the time of the Council of Chalcedon (London: Methuen & Co, 1903), p. 334: 'Just as mankind in Adam lost its birthright, so in Christ mankind recovers its original condition'.
  38. ^ Robert S. Franks, A history of the doctrine of the work of Christ in its ecclesiastical development vol. 1 (London: Hodder and Stoughton), p. 37-38
  39. ^ Fr. James Bernstein, author of Surprised by Christ: My journey from Judaism to Orthodox Christianity, The Illumined Heart Podcast, May 22, 2008. See also Clark Carlton. The Faith: Understanding Orthodox Christianity - An Orthodox Catechism (Salisbury, MA) Regina Orthodox Press, 1997. 139-146.
  40. ^ Ann Ball, 2003 Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices ISBN 0-87973-910-X
  41. ^ Pius XI, Miserentissimus Redemptor (08/05/1928)
  42. ^ Vatican archives
  43. ^ Michael Freze, 1993, Voices, Visions, and Apparitions, OSV Publishing ISBN 087973454X
  44. ^ Jehovah's Witnesses—Proclaimers of God's Kingdom. Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society. 1993. pp. 144–145. 
  45. ^ What Does the Bible Really Teach?. Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society. 2005. p. 32. 
  46. ^ "The Watchtower 1973, page 724" – "Declaration and resolution", The Watchtower, December 1, 1973, page 724.
  47. ^ Penton, M. James (1997) [1985]. Apocalypse Delayed (2nd. ed.).  
  48. ^ "Angels—How They Affect Us". The Watchtower: 7. January 15, 2006. 
  49. ^ ADAM – Retrieved 10 January 2013.
  50. ^ The Watchtower 6/1/00 p. 11 par. 6 Keep Your “Hope of Salvation” Bright!
  51. ^ The Watchtower, March 15, 1989, p. 31 Call on Jehovah’s Name and Get Away Safe! “The Way of Salvation”
  52. ^ "James Urges Clean and Active Worship,", The Watchtower 3/1/83 p. 13, "Faith that does not prompt us to do good works is not genuine and will not result in our salvation."
  53. ^ "Meetings to Help Us Make Disciples", Our Kingdom Ministry, January 1979, p. 2.
  54. ^ The Watchtower, May 15, 2006 pp. 28-29 par. 12
  55. ^ The Watchtower 2/15/83 p. 12 You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth—But How?
  56. ^ Our Doctrinal Foundation - United Pentecostal Church International. Retrieved 16 October 2013.
  57. ^ Leon Morris, 'Theories of the Atonement' in Elwell Evangelical Dictionary.


See also

According to the doctrine of Christus Victor doctrine, which refers to a Christian understanding of the Atonement which views Christ's death as the means by which the powers of evil, which held humanity under their dominion, were defeated.[57] It is a model of the atonement that is dated to the Church Fathers,[18] and it, along with the related ransom theory, was the dominant theory of the atonement for a thousand years.

Emanuel Swedenborg

Oneness Pentecostals teach that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the only means by which atonement can be obtained for dying humanity, and which makes the free gift of God's salvation possible. They believe that all must put faith in the propitiatory work of Christ to gain everlasting life. According to United Pentecostal theology, this saving faith is more than just mental assent or intellectual acceptance, or even verbal profession, but must include trust, appropriation, application, action, and obedience. They contend that water baptism is one of the works of faith and obedience necessary for Christ's sacrificial atonement to be efficacious.[56]

The United Pentecostal Church

"The word [atonement] describes the setting 'at one' of those who have been estranged, and denotes the reconciliation of man to God. Sin is the cause of the estrangement, and therefore the purpose of the atonement is to correct or overcome the consequences of sin" ("Atonement" entry of the Bible Dictionary in the LDS edition of the King James Bible).

  • Suffering in Gethsemane. The Atonement began in Gethsemane and ends with Christ's resurrection. (Christ's agony at Gethsemane Luke 22:44; Doctrine and Covenants 19:16-19; Mosiah 3:7; Alma 7:11-13. Christ described this agony in the Doctrine and Covenants as follows: "[The] suffering caused myself, even God [Christ], the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit..." (Doctrine and Covenants 19:18).
  • The relationship of justice, mercy, agency, and God's unconditional love. Christ's infinite atonement was required to satisfy the demands of justice based on eternal law, rendering Him Mediator, Redeemer, and Advocate with the Father. One eternal law states that "no unclean thing can enter into the Kingdom of God." To sin is to break God's law, symbolically leaving a "stain." Thus, he proffers divine mercy to the truly penitent who voluntarily come unto him, offering them the gift of his grace to "lift them up" and "be perfected in Him" through his merits (2 Nephi 2 and 9; Alma 12, 34, and 42; Moroni 9:25; 10:33; compare Isaiah 55:1-9). We are made perfect, first, through justification, followed by sanctification.
  • No need for infant baptism. Christ's atonement completely resolved the consequence from the fall of Adam of spiritual death for infants, young children and those of innocent mental capacity who die before an age of self-accountability, hence all these are resurrected to eternal life in the resurrection. However, baptism is required of those who are deemed by God to be accountable for their actions (Moroni 8:10-22)
  • Empathetic purpose. Christ suffered pain and agony not only for the sins of all people, but also to experience their physical pains, illnesses, anguish from addictions, emotional turmoil and depression, "that His bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities" (Alma 7:12; compare Isaiah 53:4).

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints expands the doctrine of the atonement complementary to the substitutionary atonement concept, including the following:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

[55] The Witnesses teach that

According to Jehovah's witness theology, atonement for sins comes only through the life, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ. They teach that Jesus was the "second Adam", being the pre-existent and sinless Son of God who was made Flesh as the human Messiah of Israel, and that he came to undo what the first Adam did in Eden; and that salvation and everlasting life can only be obtained through faith and obedience to the Second Adam.[44][45][46][47][48][49]

The Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses

Non-trinitarian Christian theologies

Specific Roman Catholic practices such as the Rosary of the Holy Wounds (which does not include the usual rosary mysteries) focus on specific redemptive aspects of Christ's suffering in Calvary.[43]

"the unceasing effort to stand beside the endless crosses on which the Son of God continues to be crucified".[42]

Pope John Paul II referred to the concept as:

"We are holden to the duty of reparation and expiation by a certain more valid title of justice and of love." ... "Moreover this duty of expiation is laid upon the whole race of men"[41]

Moreover, in Miserentissimus Redemptor the Pontiff called acts of reparation a duty for Roman Catholics:

[40] As expressed by

Roman Catholic views on atonement and reparation

Eastern Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholicism have a substantively different soteriology; this is sometimes cited as the core difference between Eastern and Western Christianity. Salvation is not seen as legal release, but transformation of the human nature itself in the Son taking on human nature. In contrast to other forms of Christianity, the Orthodox tend to use the word "expiation" with regard to what is accomplished in the sacrificial act. In Orthodox theology, expiation is an act of offering that seeks to change the one making the offering. The Greek word that is translated both into propitiation and expiation is "hilasmos" which means "to make acceptable and enable one to draw close to God". Thus the Orthodox emphasis would be that Christ died, not to appease an angry and vindictive Father, or to avert the wrath of God, but to change people so that they may become divine, that is to say, become God in his energies or operations but not in his essence or identity as God (see theosis).[39]

Eastern Christianity

An early theory of the atonement is the recapitulation view, first comprehensively expressed by Irenaeus.[36] In it, Christ succeeds where Adam failed,[37] undoing the wrong that Adam did and, because of his union with humanity, leads humanity on to eternal life, including moral perfection.[38]


Other Christian perspectives



Penal substitution


Ransom and Christus Victor

Moral influence

Main theories in detail

Care needs to be taken to understand what is being referred to by the various terms used in different contexts.[26][35]

  • Sometimes 'substitutionary atonement' is used to refer to 'penal substitution' alone,[27] when the term also has a broader sense including other atonement models that are not penal.[28]
  • Penal substitution is also sometimes described as a type of satisfaction atonement,[29] but the term 'satisfaction atonement' functions primarily as a technical term to refer particularly to Anselm's theory.[30]
  • Substitutionary and penal themes are found within the Patristic (and later) literature, but they are not used in a penal substitutionary sense until the Reformed period.[31]
  • 'Substitution', as well as potentially referring to specific theories of the atonement (e.g. penal substitution), is also sometimes used in a less technical way—for example, when used in 'the sense that [Jesus, through his death,] did for us that which we can never do for ourselves'.[32]
  • The phrase 'vicarious atonement' is sometimes used as a synonym for 'penal substitution', and is also sometimes used to describe other, non-penal substitutionary, theories of atonement.[33][34]

Some confusion can occur when discussing the atonement because the terms used sometimes have differing meanings depending on the contexts in which they are used.[26] For example:

Confusion of terms

Others say that some models of the atonement naturally exclude each other. James F. McGrath, for example, talking about the atonement, says that 'Paul ... prefers to use the language of participation. One died for all, so that all died (2 Corinthians 5:14). This is not only different from substitution, it is the opposite of it.'[23] Similarly, Mark M. Mattison, in his article The Meaning of the Atonement says, 'Substitution implies an "either/or"; participation implies a "both/and." '[24] J. Kenneth Grider, quoted above showing the compatibility of various atonement models with the governmental theory, nevertheless also says that both penal substitution and satisfaction atonement theories are incompatible with the governmental theory.[25]

Some theologians say that 'various biblical understandings of the atonement need not conflict'.[21] Reformed theologian J. I. Packer, for example, although he maintains that 'penal substitution is the mainstream, historic view of the church and the essential meaning of the Atonement... Yet with penal substitution at the center', he also maintains that 'Christus Victor and other Scriptural views of atonement can work together to present a fully orbed picture of Christ's work'.[21] J. Kenneth Grider, speaking from a governmental theory perspective, says that the governmental theory can incorporate within itself 'numerous understandings promoted in the other major Atonement theories', including ransom theory, elements of the 'Abelardian "moral influence" theory', vicarious aspects of the atonement, etc.[22]

Compatibility of differing theories


  • Compatibility of differing theories 1
  • Confusion of terms 2
  • Main theories in detail 3
    • Moral influence 3.1
    • Ransom and Christus Victor 3.2
    • Satisfaction 3.3
      • Penal substitution 3.3.1
      • Governmental 3.3.2
      • Scapegoating 3.3.3
  • Other Christian perspectives 4
    • Recapitulation 4.1
    • Eastern Christianity 4.2
    • Roman Catholic views on atonement and reparation 4.3
  • Non-trinitarian Christian theologies 5
    • The Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses 5.1
    • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 5.2
    • The United Pentecostal Church 5.3
    • Emanuel Swedenborg 5.4
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links and Bibliography 8
  • Further reading 9

The next explanation, which was a development by the Reformers[15][16][17][18] of Anselm's satisfaction theory,[19] is the commonly held Protestant "penal substitution theory," which, instead of considering sin as an affront to God’s honour, sees sin as the breaking of God’s moral law. Placing a particular emphasis on Romans 6:23 (the wages of sin is death), penal substitution sees sinful man as being subject to God’s wrath with the essence of Jesus' saving work being his substitution in the sinner's place, bearing the curse in the place of man (Galatians 3:13).[20] A variation that also falls within this metaphor is Hugo Grotius’ "governmental theory", which sees Jesus receiving a punishment as a public example of the lengths to which God will go to uphold the moral order.

The third metaphor, used by the 11th century theologian Anselm, is called the "satisfaction" theory. In this picture humanity owes a debt not to Satan, but to the sovereign God himself. A sovereign may well be able to forgive an insult or an injury in his private capacity, but because he is a sovereign he cannot if the state has been dishonoured. Anselm argued that the insult given to God is so great that only a perfect sacrifice could satisfy, and that Jesus, being both God and man, was this perfect sacrifice. Therefore, the doctrine would be that Jesus gave himself as a “ransom for many”, to God the Father himself.

Chronologically, the second explanation, first clearly enunciated by Irenaeus,[13] is the "ransom" or "Christus Victor" theory. "Christus victor" and "ransom" are slightly different from each other: in the ransom metaphor Jesus liberates humanity from slavery to sin and Satan and thus death by giving his own life as a ransom sacrifice (Matthew 20:28). Victory over Satan consists of swapping the life of the perfect (Jesus), for the lives of the imperfect (humans). The "Christus Victor" theory sees Jesus not used as a ransom but rather defeating Satan in a spiritual battle and thus freeing enslaved humanity by defeating the captor. This theory 'continued for a thousand years to influence Christian theology, until it was finally shifted and discarded by Anselm'.[14]

The earliest explanation for how the atonement works is nowadays often called the moral influence theory. In this view the core of Christianity is positive moral change, and the purpose of everything Jesus did was to lead humans toward that moral change. He is understood to have accomplished this variously through his teachings, example, founding of the Church, and the inspiring power of his martyrdom and resurrection. This view was universally taught by the Church Fathers in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD,[9][10][11] along with what is called by Aulen the classical or patristic view, which can be variously interpreted as Ransom or Recapitulation, or under the general heading of "Christus Victor".[12] The moral influence theory also enjoyed popularity during the Middle Ages and is most often associated in that period with Peter Abelard. Since the Reformation it has been advocated by many theologians such as Immanuel Kant, Hastings Rashdall and Paul Tillich. It remains the most popular view of atonement among theologically liberal Christians. It also forms the basis for René Girard’s "mimetic desire" theory (not to be confused with meme theory).

The four most well known theories are briefly described below: [8]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.