Home » Why Did Jesus Die? 5 Historical Theories of Atonement Every Christian Must Know

Why Did Jesus Die? 5 Historical Theories of Atonement Every Christian Must Know

by Dr. Eitan Bar
22 minutes read
  1. Ransom (Christus Victor) Theory
  2. Recapitulation Theory
  3. Satisfaction Theory
  4. Moral Influence Theory
  5. Penal Substitution Theory

The word atonement (in English) means reconciliation. It comes from a Middle English word, “onement,” which means “harmony.” So, “at onement” literally means the state of one thing being “at one” with another.[i] Therefore, “atonement,” referring to Christ, means that something happened in the spiritual realm when Christ died, resulting in God and us becoming one again. We also speak of it as the ability to spend eternity with God (or revert to how things were in the very beginning). Most Christians, if not all denominations, will say that “Jesus died for me.” However, most will hit a wall trying to articulate how and what exactly that means. Perhaps your mind also scrambles to figure out a smooth and easy way to explain the spiritual mechanism that occurred when Jesus died. If so, know that you are not the only one struggling. In fact, if you ask different Christians this allegedly simple question, you will receive very different answers. But that’s okay because Christianity has struggled with that for two thousand years now. Therefore, the answer to the question “Why did Jesus have to die?” or “What happened when Jesus died?” is: “It depends on who you ask.” Nevertheless, this is one of the single most important debates in Christianity.

To no surprise, in the past two millennia, wise and well-meaning Christian theologians have tried to articulate what they understood to be the reason and mechanics behind Jesus’s crucifixion. The challenge is that the default mindset of humans is to try to find the simplest explanation for things. But by doing so, we risk oversimplifying the gospel. Also, God is anything but plain and simple.[1] His wisdom and work of salvation are “wide and long and high and deep.” Therefore, the Gospel is also deep, complex, and impressive, like a grand mosaic.

As you probably know, theological doctrines do not fall from the sky all at once but are slowly forged by humans. They are not written on a blank page or in a sterile environment. In most cases, theological doctrines develop as a reaction to a previous one they seek to upgrade or challenge. For this reason, several different “Models of Atonement” have been offered in the last two thousand years, trying to explain why Jesus had to die. Each model was developed or explained in several different ways, and each explanation has its strengths and weaknesses.

I hope that by now, we can agree that love – not anger and hate – was the motivation for why Jesus died. Still, what was the mechanism behind it? Spiritually speaking, if the cross is indeed the single most spectacular event in human history, we should only expect the death of Christ to hold multiple layers of meaning. I would even go so far as to say this: God’s wisdom unfolding on the cross is supposed to take humankind thousands of years to be fully unveiled. Perhaps even eternity.

You may consider the topic of atonement as a big mansion with many doors and windows. Some big and heavy books have already opened many of the doors. I, however, will only be peeking through some of the keyholes, enough to offer a survey that will give a much-needed context to our topic. Doing so, I will also share some of my insights, spicing things up a little. Remember, each denomination will hold to a different view. In fact, the theories of atonement are what mostly differentiate between denominations in Christianity. And, of course, different denominations love fighting over which theory/model is true.

Let me confess in advance. I’m an odd duck, as I’m part of a tiny minority that believes truths can be found in more than just one model of atonement.

Ransom Theory (aka Christus Victor[2])

“Ransom” comes from Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life asa ransom for man.” And from 1st Timothy 2:6: “Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” Ransom theory was the predominant theory of atonement for Christianity’s first thousand years. Most church fathers held to the ransom theory of atonement. Origen (185-254 AD) was the first to develop it systematically.[ii]

Since the fall of man (Genesis 3), mankind has been enslaved to Satan, who is “the prince of this world.” In the ransom view, Jesus saved us from enslavement by giving himself ransom on our behalf:

A Divine conflict and victory; Christ-Christus Victor- fights and triumphs over the evil powers of the world, the ‘tyrants’ under which mankind is in bondage and suffering, and in Him God reconciles the world to himself.[iii]

Promoters of Ransom/Christus Victor theory will point to the epistle to the Hebrews:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

And, to Colossians:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15)

Consider a child who has been told by their parents never to take candy from strangers. One day, a stranger with bad intentions offers the child a candy unlike any they’ve ever tasted, and despite their parents’ warning, the child follows the stranger and is kidnapped. Similarly, Adam and Eve fell for the oldest trick in the book when the serpent tricked them into eating the forbidden “candy,” and they were spiritually captured by him. Later, a Savior sets the child free by taking his place.

In a more enhanced explanation of this model,[iv] triumph over Satan took place by “divine deception.”[3] One author referred to it as a “cosmic sting operation”[v] whereby God used Satan’s ignorance of sacrificial love and his greedy lust for power against him. An excellent example of such use of the enemy’s ignorance is in 1st Corinthians 2:8: “None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (see also Ephesians 3:10). Satan, wanting to kill Christ, failed to understand that Christ’s mission was to die.[4] God’s triumph over Satan is not because God has more muscles and thereby can force his will (anywhere, on anyone, and at any time). God won because he outplayed Satan in a fair game, playing by the same rules. In the words of Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), Satan overcame “not by the power of God, but by his justice.”[vi] In a sense, this happened in Satan’s court, as he’s the ruler of this world. Thereby, God won as the “underdog.”[5] I like to think of it as a divine game of chess where both players are bound to the same rules and are only limited by their wisdom. In that sense, much like what we see in the book of Job, God outsmarted Satan.

Today, a popular name identified with ransom theory, and one who gave it a vivid illustration, is the great late C.S. Lewis. In “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,”[6] Lewis offers an expository of his view on atonement.[vii] In the story, four children find themselves in the fantasy world of Narnia, where an evil and powerful witch sorceress has seized control. One of the four — a whiney brat named Edmund — ends up conspiring with Jadis, the queen sorceress, against his three siblings, who, while on the run, encounter Aslan, the magnificent lion and the rightful ruler of Narnia. Aslan plans to rescue Edmund, but the evil queen reminds Aslan of “the Magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning.” This is the moral order of Narnia. Therefore, the queen stipulates: “Every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to a kill…That human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property.” The moral order or “deep magic,” as Lewis calls it, cannot simply be waved away.

Despite his sins, the great Aslan was not upset, angry, or full of wrath but loved Edmund. So, he offers himself up as a sacrifice in place of Edmund. The great Lion is a much greater prize than any “human creature.” Since the queen is sure that killing Aslan would finally allow her to take control over Narnia, she delightfully accepts the offer.

Aslan is mocked and tortured by her evil, ugly minions and then put to death on “the Stone Table,” where the justice of Narnia’s Deep Magic is carried out. But then, when all is lost, Aslan is resurrected! Like the temple’s veil, the Stone Table is split in two. In chapter 15, Aslan explains:

Though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.

In Lewis’ marvelous tale, self-sacrificial love is much stronger than any other law or magic. It is, therefore, the one thing that can set a treacherous covenant breaker free from the just condemnation of the Law.

Scripture declares Jesus came into this world to “drive out the ruler of this world.” (John 12:31) And, to “destroy the works of the devil.” (1st John 3:8) Also, to “destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” (Hebrews 2:14-15) And to ultimately “put all his enemies under his feet” (1st Corinthians 15:25). Jesus came to overpower the “strong man” (Satan) who holds the world in bondage and to work with his children to “plunder his house.” (Luke 11:21-22) Christ came to end the reign of the cosmic “thief” who had seized the world to “steal, kill, and destroy” the life God intended for us (John 10:10). Jesus came to earth and died on the cross to disarm “the rulers and authorities” and make a “public spectacle of them” by “triumphing over them on the cross” (Colossians 2:15).

In the ransom theory of atonement, Jesus took our place, not so that God may punish and torture him. Instead, it was for Satan to kill him. But this was only a trick to overcome the devil through his ignorance of sacrificial love. Sacrificial love is the “magic” that evil was unaware of. The ransom theory dominated Christianity until other views, mainly Anselm of Canterbury’s “theory of satisfaction,” challenged it in 1098.

Recapitulation Theory

Irenaeus (130-202) came up with the recapitulation model of atonement, held chiefly by Orthodox denominations. According to the recapitulation model, Christ experienced all stages of life, including all that we as sinners face, only that his obedience replaced the rebellion of Adam, our ancestor. In that sense, Christ was a “second Adam” who recapitulated the narrative of mankind on our behalf.

Here is the logic: Just as the head leads the body, the patriarch is the head of the family. He is the leader and representative of the family. Likewise, a prime minister heads and represents his entire nation before the world, just as the king of Israel was the head and leader of God’s chosen people, representing Israel. In that same way, Adam was the patriarch of mankind.

His failure caused ours (Romans 5:12). In that sense, Christ replaced Adam as the new patron leader and representative of those who chose to swear allegiance to him. Jesus was the ultimate King Messiah who redeemed Adam’s disobedience by demonstrating perfect obedience in self-sacrificing himself. Just as King David represented all of Israel in his triumph (when he fought against Goliath), so did Jesus represent mankind.[7]

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1st Corinthians 15:21-22)

Adam and Eve failed to obey God even though they had only one rule to abide by (stay away from one forbidden tree). This was while they lived in the most comfortable and nourishing environment ever created – the Garden of Eden. Despite these facts, Adam and Eve were overthrown by what was probably the Serpent’s first attempt at deceiving them.[8] Jesus, in contrast, was obedient, keeping the strict Law of Moses that no one else could ever keep perfectly. Moreover, Christ did so while living in the most stressful, complex – impossible even – life situation, as everyone turned against him. According to the recapitulation model, because of that, Jesus can now represent us as he went through life’s stages like any other human but did so without blemish. Christ re-lived life perfectly on our behalf. He is our representative, and because of him, Satan has no charge against those who take shelter under his wings. In addition, according to Romans 8:34, Jesus “is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” In 1st John 2:1, we read that Jesus is our “advocate with the Father,” and from Hebrews 7:25, we learn that Jesus “always lives to intercede” for us.

Satisfaction Theory

The satisfaction theory of atonement holds that Christ redeemed humanity by making satisfaction for humankind’s disobedience through his supererogatory obedience. But what does that mean?

In the days of Anselm of Canterbury,[9] most of Europe lived in a feudal society whereby commoners submitted to a knight responsible for protecting the area in which they lived. The justice system was less about judges and juries and more about a combination of legal and military customs. From a social standpoint, the knights held authority and would severely punish those who rebelled against them. Knights couldn’t forgive transgressions against them without punishment. Otherwise, it would be considered a demonstration of weakness, causing them to lose respect in people’s eyes and may allow a revolt against them. Above the knights were the kings; transgressions against them were considered very serious and demanded an even more severe response — execution — to restore their honor and make sure no one would even consider rebelling. Fear was the motivation of knights and kings. And fear was what they used against the commoners. Anselm, who rejected the Ransom theory, formulated the Satisfaction theory, which was likely influenced a lot by his culture.

For Anselm, sin was a transgression against the honor of God, the King of kings. Just as a human king may not allow his glory to be slighted without punishing the transgressor, Anselm believed God would never ignore our sins without restitution. The lost honor of God had to be satisfied, or God would be perceived as weak.[10] Therefore, satisfaction means restitution – the mending of what was broken and the paying back of debt. While these sins were an offense to God’s honor, Jesus’s suffering and death on the cross caused a reconciliation of the lost honor. In other words, only God can provide the necessary means to satisfy his lost honor. Therefore, the death of Christ was God satisfying himself for the sake of humankind. Jesus’s obedience, which climaxed with his death on the cross, is the ultimate obedience that returned the honor lost due to humankind’s sin. Therefore, justice was served.

The Satisfaction Theory is dominant in the Catholic Church.

Moral Influence Theory

In Hebrew, we have a saying mocking those who repeat things they see others do: “Monkey follows human.”[11] While we, Israeli-Jews, say it to scorn one another, truth be told, we learn by imitation. After all, is that not what raising children and discipleship are all about? Extensive research showed:

Infants and toddlers are the world’s best ‘copycats.’ Young children learn from their parents, caregivers, and even from watching television.[viii]

Other research showed that “children learn about the social and physical world by observing other people’s acts.[ix] Yet we don’t need research to know this. As children, we all had posters of “heroes” who influenced us in our bedrooms. This is more or less the logic behind the theory of Moral Influence, developed by Augustine of Hippo[x] (354-430 AD). The theory was later expanded by French theologian Peter Abelard (1079-1142). Abelard (who also held to some primal version of the ‘forensic theory of atonement’[12]) proposed that the death of Christ was participation in the suffering of his creation to portray the love of God. A love that was willing to die with and for its creation, setting an example for us to follow and live by. Christ’s sacrifice was meant to influence us to do the same for others. In Abelard’s commentary on Romans 3:26, he wrote:

It seems to us that in this, we are justified in the blood of Christ and reconciled to God, that it was through this matchless grace shown to us that his Son received our nature and in that nature, teaching us both by word and example, persevered to the death and bound us to himself even more through love.

This sacrificial love is meant to awaken a reaction for moral change in the sinner, releasing the sinner from the power of selfishness. Think of Mary Magdalena and how she committed her life to the one who rescued her from evil. Her response was to reflect Christ’s grace and love toward others. Similarly, according to moral influence theory, we ought to respond as followers of Christ. Ideally, God’s love and grace compel us to become people of love and grace.

In a damaged relationship, acts of grace and kindness can mend a broken heart and bring back to life that which was lost. So, by the grace and kindness demonstrated by God through the cross, the hearts of men can be softened, return to God, and reflect that love toward others. If Christ influenced and conquered the hearts of sinners with his love, so should we.

Let me give you an example. Here in Israel, we often suffer from random acts of terror on the streets. But what happened in March of 2022 was unique. A Muslim terrorist shot and killed several Jewish passersby on the street in central Israel. The fifth person he killed was First Sergeant Amir Khoury, an Arab-Israeli police officer who stormed the terrorist. They both shot one another dead. This was a phenomenon for several reasons. One of them is that the incident occurred in the Jewish ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei-Brak.

Officials said that the Arab police officer saved the lives of many Jewish residents of that city by sacrificing his own life to protect them. The irony here is tremendous for Israelis: an Arab offering his life to save Jews. And not just any Jews, but ultra-Orthodox, who, for the most part, despise gentiles — Arabs in particular. The late Amir Khoury quickly became a national hero and a cherished figure in our society. He is a role model for courage, but primarily for love in its ultimate condition, sacrificing one’s life for the sake of others.

Amir Khoury made a tremendous positive impact. Buses filled with Jews who had never met him arrived at his funeral to pay respect to his family. In addition, the city council of Bnei-Brak decided to commemorate him by changing the name of the street on which he offered his life to “Amir Khury Street.” While most streets in Israel are named after people, this would be the first time a street in the city of Bnei-Brak is named after a non-Jewish person. And why? Because he sacrificed his life. Offering his life did something profound in the hearts of many Jewish people. It set an excellent standard for sacrificial love and softened the hearts of opponents.

This same state of mind drove Abelard to focus on how the cross changed men’s perception of God, no longer another one of those harsh and judgmental gods. But a loving, patient, and tender father:

Jesus died as the demonstration of God’s love, a demonstration which can change the hearts and minds of the sinners, turning back to God.[xi]

Christ’s death demonstrates ultimate love, holding the power to rekindle the hearts and minds of even the most selfish and wicked men as they look up to the cross and humble themselves at the sight of what God did for them (this is perhaps why “prison ministry” works so well). On the cross, we get to see how radically far the love of God was willing to journey to redeem us. Abelard believed love is a much more efficient catalyst than fear of punishment (1 John 4:18). If someone more significant than you — let alone the Creator himself — loved you by giving his life for you, how can one not be utterly humbled and motivated to love others the same way? “We love because he first loved us” (1st John 4:19). We know what love is – sacrificing for others – because God first demonstrated it to us through the cross.

The Moral Influence theory of Atonement can be summarized in the words of John:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1st John 3:16)

A strong (and not so healthy) rivalry exists between “liberal” Protestants (who typically adopt this moral influence view) and “conservative” Protestants (who typically reject this view, adopting the penal substitution theory instead).

Penal Substitution Theory

In the 16th century, hundreds of years after Anselm, Europe changed, and people started challenging the ideas of previous societies. A well-known example is the Protestant Reformation led by Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and others. Penal Substitution was developed during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century by Martin Luther and John Calvin. However, “reemerged” may be a more appropriate term than “developed” because although they systematically developed it and added their views, they were not the first ones in the Middle Ages to notice the idea of penalty and substitution in the atonement of Christ.[13] Much farther back, Eusebius of Caesarea (260-339 AD) wrote:

Christ transferred to Himself the scourging, the insults, and the dishonor, which were due us, and drew down upon Himself the appointed curse.[xii]  

However, in that primal view by Eusebius, men were the cause of Christ’s sufferings, not God. The Father did not pour violent wrath on Jesus, wicked men did.

In Penal Substitution, Penal is in the sense of penalty — punishment. A transgressor must pay for his sins. It is the very foundation of every functioning society. Boundaries are where you end and another begins. You get penalized when you cross that boundary (as in sinning). The penalty keeps boundaries in place, thereby protecting you and others. Take it away, and you are left with complete anarchy.

A penalty can be seen as a verdict on a thief to pay 120 coins for stealing 100 coins. The first 100 coins he pays back are the restitution, and the extra fifth (20 coins) is the punishment. I used this example because this is how things were done by the Israelites living under the Law of Moses.[14] But crossing boundaries can take many forms. Here in modern Israel, speed cameras await over-enthusiastic drivers on most highways. If you drive above the speed limit, a letter will arrive in your mailbox with the fine you must pay as a penalty.

But let’s say you cannot pay the fine. Lucky for you, you have a good friend who likes you and is willing to pay for you. In that case, he’s taking your penalty upon himself, paying the price for your sin as a substitute. That is an example of Penal Substitution in our daily lives. Likewise, as theologian Joshua McNall puts it, “Christ stands in for us so that something happens to him that does not happen (at least in the same way) to us.[xiii]

Penal Substitution is, of course, also argued from passages in the New Testament.[15] Simply put, penal substitution, in its most basic way, views Christ as having borne the death penalty for human sin upon the cross. He died in our place, therefore, our substitute. The primary distinction from Anslem’s Theory of Satisfaction is that the death of Jesus is not about restoring God’s lost honor but absorbing the death penalty in place of humanity. According to the Penal Substitution theory, since God is holy and righteous, he cannot simply ignore sin; that would be unjust. Therefore, sinners must pay a price.[16] Because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), we, as sinners, ought to die. As a replacement, Jesus took upon himself the death penalty we deserve. Penal substitution theory is dominant in most reformed denominations, primarily evangelical Protestantism. Tom Schreiner, a reformed theologian, explains:

The theory of penal substitution is the heart and soul of an evangelical view of the atonement…penal substitution functions as the anchor and foundation for all other dimensions of the atonement when the Scriptures are considered as a canonical whole.[17]

Penal Substitution without Divine Murder

Evangelizing to Jewish people for 20 years has meant that I have received a lot of death threats in my life, resulting in having to change apartments frequently. In the past 15 years, I have lived in 10 different places. I know it’s not ideal, but Israel is very expensive to live in, and I could never afford to buy my own place while living on a missionary salary. Moreover, not many landlords appreciate a Christian missionary living in their place. However, moving so often did lead to some unique situations. While some I wish never happened, others positively impacted me. One specific incident was in 2013 when I signed a lease for a place, and the owners had to move from Israel to Spain for four years to work with the Shin Bet.

The owner, my new landlord at the time, gave me the “how to” tour of the new place. When we got to the kitchen, he shared with me a story of how he decided to bless his wife, who loves cooking, by installing a brand-new electric stove system with the latest technology just about a year earlier. Unfortunately, the following week after the installation, the cleaning lady leaned on the stove while trying to clean something up high and broke it. Poor woman, I thought to myself, as this was maybe a month’s worth of salary she had to pay back, and she probably lost a vital client too. To my amazement, the owner, a really nice guy, explained that they had come to love her. He told me, “It was way too expensive for her to be able to pay back. So, we decided to let it go and replace it with a cheap one. She was grateful!”

By forgiving her or “letting it go,” they didn’t actually let it go. Someone still had to pay the price. They did so by deciding to absorb the penalty for the broken stove system in her place, replacing it at their own expense. Somebody had to absorb the penalty; either the cleaning lady would take a loan and pay it back, or they would replace it. Because they loved her and knew she could not afford it, they decided to pay. This is grace. No one could object if they fired her and deducted the payment from her salary, which would have been just. But it wasn’t “the right thing to do.” So, they chose to pay for her mistakes.

I found it to be a great illustration of Penal Substitution. The owner was not full of wrath but full of love, paying for her mistakes. Try to imagine the implications this had on the cleaning lady. Do you think her performance went up or down? Punishment is a motivation indeed, but a very weak and shallow one that never lasts. Instead, through the love and forgiveness she experienced from her employer, she became very devoted, and her performance improved. The landlord was a great guy. But our God is much greater, more loving, and gracious than any human landlord. He paid the price for all the stoves we ever broke.

This was an explanation of a “mere” Penal Substitution theory. Sadly, an “expansion pack” of the Penal Substitution theory was added in recent years, primarily (but not only) prevalent in the Reformed Baptist denomination. I like to call that expansion pack, “Divine Abuse expansion pack.” (My new book is dedicated to refuting it: ‘The “Gospel” of Divine Abuse’)

[1] Job 26:14; Isaiah 40:28, 55:8–9; Psalm 147:5.

[2] Since the 19th century ransom theory is also known under the name “Christus Victor”, later expanded by Gustaf Emmanuel Aulén.

[3] Not a deception in a sense of fraud, but in using one’s ignorance against himself (Rom 16:25; Col 1:26). This will not be the first time for God to deceit his enemies (Ezk 14:9, 1st Kings, 22:22).

[4] And\or failed to understand he needed to die as the Son of God.

[5] Just as it is more impressive when a sports team wins an away game, rather than winning in their home field. 

[6] According to Business Insider, “The 50 bestselling books of all time” (August 2021), Lewis’ book is among the 10 best-selling books ever.

[7] King David, much like Jesus, did not come to replace Israel, but to represented Israel, he came to be the champion of Israel.

[8] I believe Satan’s fall was not before the fall of Adam and Eve, but simultaneous with them (both fell together). Otherwise, the situation at the garden would not be described as a perfect utopia (Genesis 2:8-25). Seth Postell, explain: “Ezek 28:12–19. Though this passage obviously refers to the king of Tyre, it is quite probable that Ezekiel’s description of the king is an intentional allusion to the story of the serpent in Gen 2–3, suggesting that the serpent’s fall took place while it was in the Garden of Eden.” (Postell, “Adam as Israel – Genesis 1–3 as the Introduction to the Torah and Tanakh”. Pickwick, 2011. Pg 123.)

[9] Philosopher and theologian in the Middle Ages. Filled the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury (1093-1109).

[10] Although, in contrast to human kings, God is not weak and killing him is impossible anyways.

[11] Perhaps the equivalent of the English, “Monkey see, monkey do”.

[12] “Forensic Theory” is an early version of Penal Substitution theory of atonement. “Abelard was clearly espousing penal substitution” affirms Joshua McNall (in “The Mosaic of Atonement”, pg. 256).

[13] For example, French theologian Peter Abelard wrote about 4 centuries prior to Luther: “The Lord bore [and] endured the punishment of our sins.” (Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 216.)

[14] For example, Leviticus 5:16

[15] Such as Romans 3:25-26, 8:1-4 and 1st Corinthians 15:3-4.

[16] The demand for payment of sins committed is clearly stated both in the Old and New Testament: Old Testament: More than twenty different Hebrew words exist, which appear about 580 times, expressing God’s wrath (see: 2nd kings 13:3, 23:26, Job 21:20, Jer. 21:12, Ezek. 8:18, 16:38, 23:25, 24:13). In every instance sin is the cause for the wrath of God. Idolatry especially so (Deut. 6:14, Josh. 23:16, Psa. 78:21, Isa. 66:15-17). The repercussions of God’s wrath are: Various kinds of suffering (Psa. 89:8), plague (2nd Sam. 24:15, Ezek. 14:19), massacre (Ezek. 9:8), destruction (Ezek. 5:15), defeat by enemies (2nd Chr. 28:9), drought (1st Chr. 11:17), leprosy (Num. 12:10) and exile (2nd Chr. 23:26-27; Ezek. 19:12). The idea is of a righteous God who may not ignore sin, but also provides means to reconnect with him through sacrifice.
   New Testament: Although ‘wrath’ is not mentioned as often as in the Old Testament, it is a fundamental concept flowing from the Old Testament, which shows the need for making amends. The New Testament uses two main words: ogre- meaning a more settled anger (Jhn. 3:36, Romans 1:18, Eph. 2:3, 1st Thess. 2:16, Rev. 6:16), while the word thumos seems to note a stronger anger (Rev. 14:10-19, 15:1-7; 16:1, 19:15). The combination of them both vividly portray the divine animosity towards sin. The sacrifice for sin was not a matter of vengeance but of justice, and it demanded a sacrifice in the form of the Son of God.    

[17] Schreiner defines penal substitution as “the Father, because of his love for human beings, sent his Son (who offered himself willingly and gladly) to satisfy God’s justice, so that Christ took the place of sinners.” (Schreiner, “Penal Substitution”, pg 67).

[i] Tony Jones, “Did God Kill Jesus?”, page 20.

[ii] Paul P. Enns, “The Moody Handbook of Theology”, Moody Publishers, 1989, page 312.

[iii] Gustav Aulen, Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement, trans. by A. G. Herber. Wipf & Stock, 2003., p. 20.

[iv] Greg Boyd, “Christus Victor”, reknew.org. Nov 2018.

[v] Joshua M. McNall, “The Mosaic of Atonement: An Integrated Approach to Christ’s Work”, Zondervan, 2019, page 199.

[vi] Augusine, De Trinitate, 13.13. Translation by Joshua M. McNall.

[vii] For example, Joshua M. McNall in “The Mosaic of Atonement, p. 202. Or Greg Boyd on his website “reknew”.

[viii] Carrie Shrier, “Young children learn by copying you!” Michigan State University, 2014.

[ix] Wang, Williamson, Meltzoff, “Imitation as a mechanism in cognitive development“, Frontiers, 2015.

[x] 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

[xi] Beilby, James K.; Eddy, Paul R. (2009), The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views, InterVarsity. pp 18.

[xii] Eusebius of Caesarea, “Proof of the Gospel” (W.J. Ferrar’s translation, vol 2) page 195.

[xiii] Joshua M. McNall, “The Mosaic of Atonement”, page 101.

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Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist