Atonement Theories

I am really curious as to which “Atonement Theories” you guys hold onto. And a reason or two why you hold that view.

I DO NOT want this to be a place for debate! I genuinely just want to know what the views are that other Christian brothers and sisters hold and why that is.

Thank you so much!

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@codyconnally Great question :slight_smile: For the sake of those reading, here are the views of the atonement with which I am familiar. Interestingly enough, they all have some basis in Scripture. I also share below some of the ways I personally understand the atonement.

What are your thoughts on the atonement Cody?

  • Ransom theory - Jesus died as a ransom to either the devil or to God
  • Christus Victor - Jesus died to defeat the powers of evil - sin, death and the devil - setting us free to live in His Kingdom
  • Satisfaction theory - Christ died to satisfy God’s justice
  • Penal substitution - Christ was punished in our place - He took our punishment upon the cross - He did not just pay a debt of justice but literally suffered in our place

Jesus’ death is described as a ‘ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). Over the cross were the words ‘King of the Jews’ and Colossians 2:15 is clear that Jesus triumphed over the powers and authorities on the cross - a victorious King. It is also clear that Jesus died as a propitiation for our sins (I John 2:2), the righteous for the unrighteous (1 Peter 3:18) - that looks like substitution. So each of these theories as some Biblical basis.

Here are 2 ways I personally try to describe what Christ did on the cross using Biblical language. I am still wrestling with this idea.

Atonement is chiefly about one life for another - the sacrifice was never required to suffer emotional or physical torment in proportion to the offense committed. However, the lamb was required to be spotless. Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for all people not because of the amount He suffered, but because He was a perfect sacrifice undeserving of death - the perfect lamb of God foreshadowed by the old covenant sacrifices. Christ saved us not by absorbing the Father’s wrath, but by dying in our place to set us free from the law’s condemnation so that through Him we can die to ourselves and live unto God.

Jesus is the victorious king who reconciled us to God by His blood and in whom we become Spirit filled children of the Kingdom of Light, free from the law’s condemnation and sin’s power. The law of sin and death is replaced by the Spirit’s laws of life in Christ Jesus.


Thank you so much for taking the time to write your thoughts about this. It’s definitely something I’m wrestling with as well, in a good way. You have made some really good thought-provoking points!! I love it!

One point that stood out is how you said that “Jesus didn’t come to satisfy God’s wrath.”
I truly believe the driving force of Jesus’ mission was His, the Spirit’s, and the Father’s love for us. Not that he was on a mission to change God’s mind about us. From wanting to kill us to now loving us.

I think there’s so much depth and beauty in the atonement and I hope to continue to listen and learn from other people’s views like yours.

Thank you, Sean!

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@codyconnally Definitely :slight_smile: It is a very deep and mysterious topic.

I didn’t exactly say what you quoted me as saying there… I think on this topic we have to be extra careful with language. So much so I’m even struggling with how to word this reply even now.

I don’t believe that Jesus came to satisfy God’s wrath, but I do believe that God is wrathful against sin in the world (Romans 1). I don’t believe that Jesus came to satisfy God’s wrath, but I do believe that Jesus saved us from God’s wrath (Romans 5:9).

Jesus suffered the penalty of sin - death - and became a curse for us, thereby overturning the power of the law to condemn us. But I do not think that Jesus suffered God’s wrath upon sinners in our place. Instead, Christ suffered the penalty of sin - death – in our place. He broke the curse of sin and death and the power of the devil to hold us as slaves to the fear of death by taking that curse upon Himself. The cross was not the Son appeasing the Father, but the Father and Son working together to overturn the power of the law, sin, death and the accuser – it was a rescue mission in which the Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit – overthrew the powers of darkness.

I think the fairy tale is useful to us in understanding this motif of light and darkness, for in every fairy tale there is a dark and twisted power – a goblin, a witch or a dark lord who must be destroyed. And when that evil power falls, so does all that they have built in the world – their wicked twisting of all that is good – their dark kingdom – falls with them. Scripture says that when we step out of the light and into the darkness, when we eat of the forbidden fruit, when we disobey the command of God, we step out of God’s kingdom of light and into the kingdom of the dark power that rules the world. And as members of that dark kingdom, we must fall at the end of the tale if good is to truly win.

And according to Scripture no one will be able to claim ignorance on the Day of Judgment – the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light are evident to all men. The Gospel is not a call to stop sinning because God has made up an arbitrary list of things that He dislikes. It is a call to leave the twisted kingdom of the dark powers of this world and enter into the kingdom of the Son whom God loves. It is a call to stop believing the lies of the accuser, which began in the garden, and accept the truth of God – that those who do such things shall surely die and that Christ is the only path back to life – the way, the truth and the life.

This is definitely a mystery I am still processing and will continue processing all my life. Curious to hear your thoughts.

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@SeanO I am so sorry I misquoted you there! Your’e absolutely right. The wording can be tricky and hard to literally put into words at times.

I believe what I was saying is in agreeance with you even though the wording might be a little different. I feel like I understood what you were saying because I 100% agree that God is and will be wrathful towards sin and death.

This is precisely what I was getting at and thought you meant so I am glad you went into depth here.

I think the biggest obstacle so many Christians believers have is that they think/have been taught

  1. That Jesus came to change God’s mind about us. That Jesus is the loving member of the Trinity and the Father is solely anger and wrath, towards the sinner. That Jesus had to pacify God’s anger in order for him to be able to love us. This has caused a lot of false dichotomies between Jesus and God and even God in the NT and OT…in my opinion.

  2. That we have to convince God/Jesus that we are “worthy” of dying for. And we try to do this by not sinning. Not realizing that before God laid the foundation of the world, therefore before we ever did anything good or bad, God decided we were worth dying for in and through Jesus Christ.

The atoning work of Christ is so glorious that I don’t think we can ever grasp it completely. I honestly believe in all 4 of the theories you have stated. I might not agree with everything that these said “theories” state but I agree with the overall heart of them.

I do believe Jesus died as a “ransom” forgiving an setting free the many who are in bondage. I believe in doing this he has become the victor over every evil and sin. I believe that because of Christ’s death, he was actually able to uphold or satisfy God’s love and justice. Only in the Christian faith is God both loving and just. He doesn’t just wave a magic wand over sins to be forgiven but he does indeed pay the penalty that justice requires for evil. And he has died in our place. He is our substitute. Just like you said above, really well, in how Christ suffered the penalty of sin-death- in our place.

There’s a lot more to say but I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Very good answers, @SeanO – but I’m still wrestling with the one about Jesus satisfying (or not) God’s wrath. Especially the statement, “I don’t believe that Jesus came to satisfy God’s wrath, but I do believe that Jesus saved us from God’s wrath.” I can certainly see what you mean about struggling to word this! There’s something about those two statements that seems a bit tangled. How does Jesus save us from God’s wrath without satisfying it?

I’m thinking about Isaiah 53:11 – “He (God) shall see the travail of his (the suffering Messiah’s) soul, and shall be satisfied.”

I’m picturing a God Whose wrath has been justly excited by sin – He wants to satisfy His wrath, to unleash it on the guilty – but the guilty in this case is greatly beloved of God and would be incapable of bearing the fulness of the wrath that God’s sense of justice demands.

But Christ volunteers, out of love for both the Father and the guilty, to suffer on behalf of the beloved the fulness of God’s wrath, thus satisfying His sense of justice and saving the guilty from it.

And while I have described this as an evolving drama from the human point of view, the whole plan was actually already foreseen by the Triune God before the foundation of the world.

Is there anything in this scenario that would strike you as unscriptural?

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Hi, Cody. Most people in my denomination adhere to the Penal Substitutionary view of the atonement as taught by Luther, Calvin and the Reformers. This view states that Jesus died to take on Himself the punishment for our sins, in our place, in order to satisfy (propitiate) the God’s holy wrath and allow the possibility of restoration of fellowship between God and humankind. It differs from some of the other views in that Jesus is not regarded as a victim of divine wrath–He Himself volunteered to die for us as an act of love-- or as just as moral model of sacrificial giving (although we agree that He did come to do that too), because punishment for sin was necessary: the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23) and without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin (Heb. 9:22). In the same way that the sin and guilt offering animals and the scapegoat symbolically took on the sins of the Israelites in the Old Testament (Lev. 4-7;16:21-22), Jesus took on human sin (Calvinists say the sins of the elect only, Arminians say the sins of the entire world) Unlike in the Scapegoat Theory, Jesus is not a helpless or unwilling victim: when Simon Peter attacked a servant of the high priest when Jesus was being arrested, Jesus ordered Peter to put away his sword because Jesus had to drink the cup the Father had prepared for Him and asks Peter if he is unaware that Jesus could summon more than 12 legions (1 legion=3,000-6,000) of angels to come defend Him, were He so inclined (Matt. 26:51-53; John 18:10). The key passage used in support of the Substitutionary Atonement view is probably Eph. 2:13-16. These verses indicate that there was a state of enmity (hostility, animosity) between God and man because of our sin, and that the blood of Jesus abolished that enmity and allowed believers to be reconciled with God, fellowship restored.


Hello all involved in this discussion. Have been finding your discussion very interesting as it is a topic that has incredible depth and diversity of ideas. I just thought I would attach a video I saw on youtube a few months back of William Lane Craig giving some of his thoughts on the atonement. I think he may have written a book on the subject as well. Thought it may be of interest to some :slightly_smiling_face:.


@codyconnally Great thoughts :slight_smile: I agree that both (1) and (2) are serious issues. For (2), I generally resolve that by saying it is not our worthiness, but the worthiness of Christ that really matters. Nothing we can do makes us worthy. God loves us in spite of the fact that we are unworthy and through Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection we are given His worthiness.

For (1), I agree that the way the Gospel is presented sometimes makes it seem like the Father is angry and Jesus is the loving One who stepped in between God’s anger and us. In reality, God the Father is the one who sent His Son out of love! (John 3:16) They were acting together out of love. I think the confusion comes in because our Gospel narrative is missing the fact that Jesus set us free from slavery to sin and death and to the dark powers of the world. The Father had a plan of compassion and mercy that was fulfilled in Christ. Yes, the Father will judge sin through His Son in the end and wrath will come upon those who choose to side with the dark powers of the world, but God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth.

Amen to the fact that only at the cross do love and justice meet in one place!

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@jlyons Good questions :slight_smile: I think there are two threads that need to be pulled—the first is purely rational and the second Scriptural.

  • How did Jesus turn away the wrath of God? We generally assume that the way to turn away wrath is to suffer wrath, but that is not necessarily the case. Imagine a father who is wrathful with one of his boys because they stole from the local grocery store. The father’s wrath could be turned away by the boy working for a few weeks and paying the money back, as he ought. The father doesn’t need to beat him senseless to pacify his anger. In the same way, if the problem Jesus came to solve is that we have transgressed God’s law, then Jesus only needs to pay the penalty for that transgression—death as a sinless victim—to set us free. There is no need for the Father to pour out some extra measure of wrath–Jesus just needs to deal with the problem of our debt to God’s law. So it is not necessarily the case that Jesus needs to suffer God’s wrath to save us from it.

  • In Scripture, I think the best defense of God pouring out His wrath would be the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus asks the Father to take this cup away. Cup of what? Clearly this is a reference to the OT and God’s anger. So I think that is the best Scriptural defense of an outpouring of wrath. However, I do not think that this reference necessarily implies anything more than Jesus taking the penalty of sin for us—death—and freeing us from the consequences of transgressing God’s law. It is interesting that the apostle Paul never once says that Jesus suffered God’s wrath for us, but only that Jesus saved us from God’s wrath by becoming sin for us.

@Brian_Upsher I’m actually going to go see Dr. Craig speak on God’s existence tonight :slight_smile: Definitely excited! On the atonement, however, I think I would follow N. T. Wright more so than Dr. Craig.

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@Kathya1010 Thank you so much for responding!! And thank you for taking the time to give the reasons for your view! They were definitely good ones.

@Brian_Upsher thank you for the video! I’ll definitely check it out!

Okay - food for thought.

And Isaiah 53:11?

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@SeanO Amen and absolutely!!!

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@SeanO NT I watched all the videos. They were great! Thank you for sharing.

NT Wright makes a really intriguing point about how we have unfortunately pinned theories against each other. And, in turn, we have lost some beautiful truths and unique insights they provide about Jesus’ death and what He accomplished by doing so.

I’m currently reading his book, “The Day the Revolution Began,” so this is giving me some insight to his main points in that book so I greatly appreciate it!

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Thanks @SeanO for the links to NT Wright’s views on the atonement. Will definitely have a watch! Enjoy your time at Dr Craig’s talk :smiley:.

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I have enjoyed many of those who have shared their views on this and thank you for starting this discussion. Here are some of my thoughts as I see it:

Atonement as Moral Influence
The Ransom Theory
The Penal Substitution Theory

Is the atonement as seen through the lens of how it affects us… how or why we are connected with the God’s work of atonement

The Satisfaction Theory
Sean O Mentioned - Christus Victor
I would add - The Correcting the broken Structure of Authority Theory

These three have more to do with how the atonement affects God, the Devil and creation Powers and principalities of good and evil etc…

I think when we ask this question regarding the atonement… we need to realize that it encompasses the motives behind why it happened, the process by which it happened and the consequences and divine effects and outcomes of it happening. Depending on which aspect you are focused upon often determines which lens you are viewing the work of atonement.

For me, I guess I would say the lens of choice would be:

The Reconciliation Theory which can be summed up in understanding two passages:

Col 1:15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

1 Cor 15:20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

The work of atonement was the motive and process which God would use to destroyed all dominion, authority and power and remove all enemies from His kingdom (creation) and that through Christ He would reconcile to Himself all things, (especially mankind) - where by after the final enemy (death) is destroyed (Rev 20:14) Christ in Rev 20:1-7 makes everything new and gives back to the Father a united, reconciled Kingdom, so that God may be all in all (1 Cor 15:28).

I believe the Reconciliation Theory is all inclusive of the other theories. That the other theories are describing more the details of how the atonement reconciles that part or aspect of God’s creation. Each one taken by itself is incomplete, but taken together, at least for me makes the most sense.

By Him and for Him and to Him,
God bless

@Brian_Upsher Will do! Coming up in just a few hours.

@codyconnally Great to hear! Yes, it is easy to proof text rather than letting the whole meta-narrative of Scripture inform our theology. And that is where I think N. T. Wright really has taught me a lot. Let us know if anything from the book really sticks out to you :slight_smile:

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