Atonement Theory

Easter just passed us by and it is the time of year that we reflect on Life….that the life of Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Along with that, we also recognize that Jesus died first, or course, to make a resurrection possible. So, it’s this time of year that people ask questions surrounding the Atonement of Christ.images (1) I have questioned the Atonement for years…never coming to any exact answer, but always asking the hard questions. One big questions I have had for many years is, “why does anyone have to die?” See, we have verses like Jeremiah 3:27 that says, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” Or Luke 18:27 saying, “What is impossible with men is possible with God“. I mention these verses because we give all the power to God, yet the first problem with all the theories of Atonement is that God is in a box and has to do something….that he is beyond the ability to work outside of a perceived view of justice. I say “perceived” because I see that all the theories of Atonement seemed to be built on a man made foundation of our idea of what justice should be. Yet, the entire religion of Christianity is built on the premise that Jesus died to deal with the justice that God deserves….or demands….or wants. A sacrifice needed to be made to reconcile our sin with God’s righteousness. What if God’s idea of justice is different?

So there are several acceptable views of the Atonement. Yet, here is the kicker in all of this. There is a really good chance that you have never heard, let alone understand and could explain in detail, any other view than the one you were taught growing up in your church. Have you been told that the Atonement view you hold is the one and only truth that is taught by the bible? That’s exactly what those who hold a different view than you imagessay as well. Being that there are many different views of the Atonement, I think it would be beneficial for all people to consider all of them and not just hold to the theory that your church teaches. What if they are wrong? What if your pastor has questions yet teaches what he has been told to teach to keep his job? What if your pastor doesn’t believe at all what they teach?

So here is a summary (there are more views but this is a basic list) of what the different theories on the Atonement are.  Check them out and study them….know where they came from and why they were considered. Ask the hard questions like “why does someone need to die”….”why is blood involved”….”why a sacrifice”? Ask if the theory that your church teaches may or may not be a view of who you think God to be. I’ll say this…I grew up on the Penal Substitution view of the Atonement. It never sat right with me…why? Because I cannot equate Love with God having to demand blood to satisfy a debt to his righteousness. And why is there a debt in the first place if God created humans to be the way humans are?

  • The Ransom Theory: God deceitfully pays off Satan with a bribe.                       
    • Introduced by Origen in the third century CE.
    • The earliest of all, originating with the Early Church Fathers, this theory claims that Christ offered himself as a ransom to Satan, not God.
  • The Satisfaction Theory: Jesus appeases God by being a ritual human sacrifice.   
    • Introduced by Anselem, in the late 11th century CE in his book, Cur Deus Homo (lit. ‘Why the God Man’).
    • Jesus Christ suffered the Crucifixion as a substitute for human sin, satisfying God due to Christ’s infinite merit.
  • The Moral Theory: Jesus’ death is an example for the rest of humanity to emulate.
    • Introduced by Abelard in the 12th century CE.
    • Christ’s death was to influence mankind toward moral improvement. This theory denies that Christ died to satisfy any principle of divine justice.
    • Teaches instead that His death was designed to greatly impress mankind with a sense of God’s love, resulting in softening their hearts and leading them to repentance.
  • The Acceptance Theory: Atonement comes from the arbitrary choice of God   
    • Introduced by Scotus circa 1300 CE and William of Occam (Occam’s Razor).
    • God could have decided of his own free will to save humanity through the work, and perhaps the death, of an angel, of Adam, of any other human being, or even an animal. But he decided, for his own reasons, to achieve atonement through the torture-death of Jesus
  • The Penal (a.k.a. Penal-Substitution) Theory: God’s mercy replaces his wrath after the infinite sacrifice of Jesus
    • Introduced by Reformation theologians like John Calvin circa 1520 CE.
    • Christ died on the cross as a substitute for sinners. God imputed the guilt of our sins to Christ, and he, in our place, bore the punishment that we deserve.
    • This was a full payment for sins, which satisfied both the wrath and the righteousness of God, so that He could forgive sinners without compromising His own holy standard.
  • Christus Victor Theory: Jesus voluntarily allowed himself to be executed.
    • Introduced by Gustaf Emanuel Hildebrand Aulén in 1930 in his book Christus Victor.
    • The atonement is viewed as divine conflict and victory over the hostile powers that hold humanity in subjection – a rescue or liberation of humanity from the slavery of sin.
    • It is a drama, a passion story of God triumphing over the powers and liberating humanity from the bondage of sin. As Gustav Aulén writes, “the work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil.

Ask questions…ask all of them. God can handle anything you throw out. If you find yourself in a church that doesn’t let you ask questions, then you are in a place that is more about control and being right than living in the Freedom of Christ. You owe it to yourself to be honest and to not be blind to that fact that you have questions. No one has all the answers…but you should be free to search for them. It’s your journey…now live it well.

14 thoughts on “Atonement Theory

  1. It is a good question and it would be nice if you had an answer other than a list of possibilities.
    MY ANSWER: It appears possible that people die due to sin which is disobeying the laws of God or that all die due to the sin of Adam (and Eve). If we did not sin we supposedly would not die. However, all sin so all die. It is my belief that all will be raised to life at some point in the future (explanation would take too much space). Some with a “few stripes” and others with an extended length of servitude as in the Mosaic legal system which would be the symbolic Lake of Fire or the stream of fire in
    Daniel. It may be that time or extended time is not an issue with God (only humans) and we will all someday live again. To God, it may be that the resurrected person would have a complete life in all glory regardless of the length or quality of their human life. It may be that the death of Jesus was not an atonement at all. Although without sin, He died as all human beings will die and was resurrected as all will be at some point. He died a horrific death although some humans have also died a horrific death and the death of Jesus could be a type of the most horrific death that most anyone might receive.

    Romans 5:12 KJV Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

    Romans 6:6 KJV Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.

    Romans 6:23 KJV For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    Romans 8:2 KJV For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

    1 Corinthians 15:56 KJV (56) The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.


    1. Hey Larry,
      Thanks for the input. What I have been thinking lately is how very few people actually know why they believe what they believe outside of what a pastor behind a pulpit tells them they need to believe. I’m trying to get people to ask questions and realize that they are free to do so. Why ask questions? Because most people live their lives as a church or pastor tells them to live….and they are not free. They are trapped. They actually don’t know what they believe is accurate or not…they just believe it and they fight to the bitter end to defend what they don’t actually know. This is why we have so many denominations and factions of christianity. We are obsessed with being “right”.
      Over time, I found out that the Atonement is a huge point for many christians….yet they have never given any thought to the Atonement and have blindly accepted what they were told, most likely at a very young age. Where I live, most, and I mean most, believe that God needs a sacrifice to justify forgiveness because sin needs to be paid for. Someone has to pay! Someone has to die! I think it’s time we ask why we believe this and start challenging pastors and church doctrine. We may find out that this is a long time religious view of the gods. I have also found out that there are a lot of people out there that the Atonement theory they were told to believe doesn’t sit well with them and they want to ask questions, but feel trapped because they are in an exclusive church that does not put up with any deviation from what they believe to be true….not realizing that that’s a cult environment.Even some pastors are trapped in their situation because they don’t want to lose their jobs.
      So what do I believe? I’m not sure yet but I don’t believe that God is violent or would call for the death of anyone to justify his righteous anger. I believe that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was all about showing who his Father really was…not to be a sacrifice. The revelation in Jesus is most likely that God is not who they all thought God to be…God is not violent but God is Love and God is on our side (even our enemies)…and nothing else. Everything else we put on that ends up being law that we kill people with. I don’t want to tell people what they need to believe. There are so many pastors out there that are doing that…and they are damaging people. I want people to know that they are Loved…that they are free….and that just about every concept they have of God may be their own projection of their religious background and that its OK to let them go. Tell me what you think…


      1. I have never given much thought to the atonement concept. After my initial comment, I mulled the idea and come up with the following whether right or wrong I don’t know.

        From the Word Study Dictionary
        katallagḗ; gen. katallagḗs, fem. noun from katallássō (G2644), to reconcile. Reconciliation, restoration, exchange. A change or reconciliation from a state of enmity between persons to one of friendship. Between God and man it is the result of the apolútrōsis (G629), redemption, the divine act of salvation, the ceasing of God’s wrath. In the NT, it means reconciliation, i.e., restoration to divine favor by bringing about a change in man, conversion (Rom_5:11; Rom_11:15), the means or occasion of reconciling the world to God.
        Syn.: apokatástasis (G605), restoration.

        From an online dictionary
        atonement [ uh-tohn-muhnt]
        1. satisfaction or reparation for a wrong or injury; amends.
        2. the doctrine concerning the reconciliation of God and humankind, especially as accomplished through the life, suffering, and death of Christ.
        3. the experience of humankind’s unity with God exemplified by Jesus Christ.
        4. reconciliation; agreement.
        payment, penance, recompense, redemption, redress, reparation, restitution, satisfaction

        From word studies and dictionaries I have come to the conclusion that atonement essentially defines as: to restore or to reconcile. I disagree with the idea of a ransom.

        The Word Study Dictionary contains the following definition: A change or reconciliation from a state of enmity between persons to one of friendship. Between God and man it is the result of the apolútrōsis (G629), redemption, the divine act of salvation, the ceasing of God’s wrath. In the NT, it means reconciliation, i.e., restoration to divine favor by bringing about a change in man, conversion.

        It appears obvious to me that the death and resurrection of Jesus was the plan of God from the very beginning of creation. The blood of the Passover lamb smeared on the doorways of the Hebrew’s houses in Egypt was a sign the death of the first born would be passed over. Later with the laws of God given to Moses, the sacrificial system required the death of a lamb (or another animal) for the forgiveness of the corporate and individual sins of the people. This, of course, was a sign, or symbolism, or a form of typology of the death and shed blood of the Lamb of God or Jesus.

        Eve was tricked (or duped) to sin against God and Adam willfully followed the pattern of Eve by an act contrary to the will of God. Their punishment was to eventually die from natural causes. As a result, the entire world being a descendant of the original two people also die from natural causes. In my opinion, even though all die, all will eventually live.

        The overcomers will either not die or will be resurrected at the return of Jesus Christ. The remainder will be resurrected at the White Throne Judgment. Some will be given a few stripes and others given many stripes. Some with a short servitude and others with a much longer servitude according to the laws of God.

        Luke 12:47-48 KJV And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. (48) But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

        All people born of a human woman must die and all will be resurrected (in my opinion). Jesus was born of a human woman, although sired by the Holy Spirit, and He was also required to die, although without sin. His resurrection, three days after death, gave evidence to the believers (and the world) that although death is required of every person, a resurrection to eternal life is also guaranteed to every person (although many disagree with this particular theology).

        It could be that certain Biblical passages are misunderstood by theologians and Bible teachers and people. Isaiah 53:5 (and other passages) appear to indicate that it was the cumulative sins of the earth’s historical population that required the death of Jesus. The death of Jesus could be the act of God presenting the ultimate sacrifice, Himself as a man, for the forgiveness of sins. It a certain way, I suppose it was a requirement but not in a sense that the debt was paid in full for evermore and people are now free to go their own way and do as they please. There is a requirement of action and faith.

        Isaiah 53:5 KJV But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

        Many claim they believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died and was resurrected. But do they truly believe that? Do they attempt to live like Jesus and follow His examples? Do they have the heart and mind of a Christian or just occasionally go to Church and claim to be a Christian? John the Baptist said, “the Kingdom of Heaven (or God) is at hand”. Jesus later said, “Follow Me, for the Kingdom of Heaven (or God) is at hand”.

        The death of Jesus, as the Lamb of God, was necessary for the forgiveness of sins by God to the human beings in a similar but ultimate manner as the sacrificial system given by God to the Israelite people through Moses. By faith that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and by living one’s life in a manner of the Son of God a person can submit to being a servant of the Kingdom of God with Jesus as the King of the Kingdom and their sins will be forgiven by God.

        This allows us to be restored or reconciled to God the creator and be eligible for eternal life at the return of Jesus or it may require restoration with stripes (a few or many) or servitude and teaching through an overcomer (Saint of the Most High) who will be an agent of Jesus the King.


  2. The following except is taken from an article written by Dr. Stephen Jones ( It might add some additional insight for a possible answer to the atonement concept.

    In other words, Jesus’ death on the cross was the means by which God would redeem Israel. It was the way in which God was able to get around the bill of divorce that He had given Israel.

    Jesus came to earth as God incarnate in order to die on the cross. Then when He was raised up in newness of life at the resurrection, Jesus was BY LAW a new creature, a different person. He was the same person by the spirit, but in the eyes of the law, He was a new man. Thus, He became eligible to remarry Israel. Paul unlocked the secret in 1 Corinthians 7:39 says,

    39 The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.

    As long as Israel’s Husband was alive in heaven, He was her ex-husband, and the law stood opposed to Him remarrying her. But it was in God’s plan to do the most inconceivable act in history—DIE. Hence, Jesus Christ was born on earth for the purpose of dying to redeem His people, Israel. After He died on the Cross, He was raised again as a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17).

    In the eyes of the law, Jesus Christ was no longer the same man that He was before His death. Legally, He was a new man, different from before, and therefore eligible to marry Israel. His death made the difference. His death resolved the difficulty and satisfied the law. This was one of Isaiah’s main themes.


    1. Thank you for input on this. It is a conversation everyone needs to have more.

      The main issue I have with this theory is that death is the only answer. Why does someone need to die? The idea that God is an ex-husband has 2 trouble spots. 1…God is bound by the Mosaic Law, which means God is not all omniscience or omnipresent. I think this a human way of trying to understand God and it falls short in my mind. 2….God literally has to kill himself to be obedient to the Law so that his people can “remarry”. Again…I think this theory is caught up in Hebrew stories of sacrifice that are taken out of context. Remember, it is the people that called for Jesus to die…not God. If we assume that God is complicit, then God is a murderer…is he not?


      1. God is bound by the Mosaic Law
        Actually it is the law of God which was given through Moses. If God makes a promise does that mean that God can break that promise? If God delivers a law to His creation, that that mean He is above the law? I suppose that God could break a promise but why would anyone desire to worship Him since His trustworthiness would be down the tubes. God can deliver laws to earthly creatures and be above those laws and break those laws at His pleasure but His following would be practically zero. God intends for His laws to be followed, but if He does not follow them why should anyone else.

        God is still omniscience and omnipresent because He does follow His own laws. The Old Testament law states that a man may divorce his wife and may remarry her if she has not taken another husband. The divorced woman can only remarry if her original husband has died. The death of the Christ allowed for God to remarry his former wife of Israel through the person of Jesus Christ who will wed the “bride of Christ” at His return.

        Hebrew stories of sacrifice
        Sacrifices are not Hebrew stories but the actual laws of God told to Moses for the Hebrews. The death of Jesus Christ on the Passover put an end to animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins. Animal sacrifices were a type of the death of Jesus Christ for the remission and forgiveness of sins.

        Animals were killed in order that Adam and Eve could be “covered” when they found themselves naked after their sin of disobedience. Adam, Eve, Cain, and Able continued to offer animals for the forgiveness of sins. Cain totally misunderstood the real purpose and attempted to offer grain and produce as a sacrifice and it was unacceptable because the life of an animal was the requirement for the forgiveness of sin and not vegetables.

        The laws of God through Moses required animal sacrifices for the remission of sins. Jesus is/was the Lamb of God given as a one-time only sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins for everyone

        it is the people that called for Jesus to die…not God
        Jesus knew He was going to die and yes, God foreknew it. God foreknows everything. God knows everyone will die except the few remaining alive at the coming of Christ. Death is caused by sin.

        If we assume that God is complicit, then God is a murderer…is he not?
        It appears that you do not even remotely understand the purpose of God and the Gospel. There have been many critics over the years claiming that God is a murderer. Through old age, medical issues, heart attacks, strokes, car wreaks, wars, etc. everyone dies, it God the slayer of everyone? However, no one is “so-called murdered” for eternity because everyone is raised from the dead.

        “The main issue I have with this theory is that death is the only answer. Why does someone need to die?” Yes, I would agree that death is the only answer. Adam and Eve eventually died due to their disobedience. Everyone will die, but all will be made alive either at the return of Christ and the White Throne judgment. It may appear to be a big celestial game to you, but that is the way it is. The original purpose of God was for all to be in a so-called heavenly state but sin and disobedience brought that to a halt. Why God didn’t just eliminate Adam and Eve and be done with it, I don’t really know and neither do you. You will just have to ask when you see Him.


      2. I want to bring up a few issues that need to addressed in my opinion.

        The Mosaic Law says:

        Exodus 20:13 – “You shall not murder.

        Is God obeying his own law in Numbers 15:32-36?

        32 And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day33 And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation.34 And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him.35 And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.36 And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses.

        How can one trust God if he says to not murder yet has others to take the life of this man? What if this were your father in the story…..would you trust God after this?

        Another issue…the Passover lamb did not take away or was for the remission of sins. That’s Yom Kippur in the fall. Why point to the Passover as that purpose?

        Another issue…it’s an assumption about Cain and his sacrifice of grain. It’s no where in the text that this was for sin. Yet, Moses says later on that grain and fruit are an acceptable sacrifice for sin. Is this a contradiction?

        My point in this is to encourage people to ask tough questions. I’m not playing any celestial games at all. I have experienced that most people have no clue why they believe what they believe…yet they will fall on their sword. Why is this?


      3. I am only guessing (and I may be wrong) but you appear to be completely against the death sentence or the death of anyone for any reason. You asked “how would you feel if that were your father”. I will ask you, “how would you feel if someone raped and killed your wife or daughter”? Would you say, “just let the person go because I am against anyone being killed for any reason”?

        Another few questions, “do you consider God a murderer”? Do you consider the Old Testament to NOT be the World of God? If God declares a law with the consequences to be death, do you consider God a murderer in advance?

        About Cain, Genesis 4:5 KJV But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. Although it is not in the Biblical text per se, it seems apparent that God expected an animal sacrifice and Cain did not deliver probably from his own hubris. Do you think that God just up and rejected his offering for no reason? Do you think that God should have accepted a grain offering because He instituted certain grain offerings to the Hebrews through Moses?

        You seem to be confusing murder with capital punishment (or the consequence of breaking a certain law of God). God does not approve of murder as a crime of passion and the judgment of a murderer was death, however you seem to believe the death of a murderer is more murder. Eliminating a murderer from committing more murders was for the welfare of the people at large. God will be able to attend his punishment in the correct manner at the White Throne judgment. You may disagree but the American system of locking up a murderer for life in a small cell could be more punishment than killing the murderer and allowing God to deal with it correctly at the judgment. No one will be dead forever. One may not be able to live a long miserable life now but will be able to live a glorious life in the future after their sins have been dealt with at the judgment.

        The Bible meaning of the Passover, for the New Testament Christian, revolves around the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is a memorial of his death as the true Lamb of God. Believers partake of unleavened bread and wine in remembrance of the sacrifice of Jesus’ beaten body and shed blood. This sacrifice makes possible the forgiveness of our sins. By partaking of the Passover symbols of bread and wine, we are proclaiming our continual faith in Jesus’ sacrifice.

        Concerning Cain’s offering, you said, “It’s no where in the text that this was for sin.” Then what was its purpose? You just make comments but do not supply an answer. The killing of animals as a sacrifice is always for the remission of sin until it came to a close at the death of Jesus Christ. Grain as a sacrifice is not a contradiction but an addition to the law through Moses to allow sacrifices for more destitute people.


      4. Remember to contemplate my original point in this….your view of the Atonement is one of several that has been argued for almost 2000 years. Yet all if them have used the Bible to support their theory. In addition, the theory you are stating here is not the earliest one and most likely not the view of the church fathers who lived closest to the time of Jesus.


      5. Actually, I don’t have a preset view of the atonement. I never really gave it much thought until I read your article. I feel like I know why Jesus was crucified to death, although I could be wrong, and I don’t believe it is because God the Father is a murderer. I don’t believe that God has ever been a murderer. I believe that God instituted the death of a live animal from the days of Adam and Eve and it prefigured as a type of the death of Jesus, the Son of God and that this plan of God was set up at the original sin or from the creation of the universe.

        All I really know is part of the information given in the scriptures and the how and why may not be known but I accept it as the Word of God. I try to avoid arguing about doctrines because I never have all the facts and pertinent scriptures. Whatever the reasons and whatever the whys and hows, I don’t know a lot, probably never will know much, but am willing to learn if I can find a reasonable scriptural answer.


      6. Larry,
        I get it. It really is an unknowable thing. We are surrounded by commentary as if they have been informed by God personally and we’re gifted to deliver their message to the world. I’m glad you are able to search and wonder these things, because at the end if the day….no one actually knows the answers. Paul disagreed with Peter, yet I’m sure they are both included in The Family of God. My whole point of doing this is to get people to think and realize that 1. If you think you know everything, then you are most likely blind. 2. You can respectfully disagree about doctrine and everything is OK. I doubt anyone is “saved” because they got all the doctrine right. In reality, doctrine is what we as humans make of the whole thing….not necessarily the truth. Truth is subjective…..but Love transcends law every day of the week.


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