Theories of Atonement

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Initially, I was going to list false theories on one page and True theories on a separate page. This is not entirely possible because all theories have some truth and most have some or much error. These theories will be listed in no particular order, except generally starting with the more false and finishing with the more True and finally, the True. All these theories will have scriptural verses that seem to support them. Only by rightly dividing the Word of Truth and the leading of Yahweh's Spirit can one discern the differences and the Truth.

It will also appear that the more modern the theory, the more false. The reformation restored some truth, but usually, the closer to the source, the more accurate. The ancient patriarchs (think Adam, Enoch, Abraham and Moses) were closer to Yahweh than their offspring. The apostles (Peter, James, John and Paul) were closer to the Messiah and truth than the mystery of iniquity that was already working in Paul's day (2 Thessalonians 2:7), reflected in the false writings of the (Roman) early "church fathers".

The following chart is not complete or entirely accurate, but will offer a brief summary:

Group Most commonly accepted theory
Methodism & Pentecostalism Governmental Theory of Atonement
Conservative & some Mainline Protestants Penal Substitution Theory
Roman Catholic Church Satisfaction Theory
Eastern Orthodox Churches Ransom Theory
Protestant Word-faith Movement Ransom Theory
Liberal Christians & Early Christians
Eastern Orthodoxy
Moral Influence Theory
Ancient Christianity Recapitulation Theory
Ancient Christianity & Eastern Orthodox
Anabaptist Mennonite
Christ Victorious Theory

Governmental Theory of Atonement (link to wikipedia)

In this theory, God's law (his rule, his government) must be upheld. Sin must be punished, or God is not just. It teaches that Christ suffered for humanity so that God could forgive humans without punishing them while still maintaining divine justice.

Initially espoused by Hugo Grotius (1583 – 1645)


Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45, Romans 3:24-26, Romans 5:12 - 21, 1 Corinthians 15:28, Galatians 3:13, Philippians 1:29 - 30, Colossians 1:24, 1 Timothy 2:5 - 6, Hebrews 9:15, Hebrews 9:22, Isaiah 42:21,


It is true that Yahweh is "just". It is true that He has a government. It is false that Yahweh's government is anything like the exacting earthly governments of the princes of darkness.

It is false that Yahweh's government contains some unwritten minimum sentencing guideline.

It is false that there is any evidence that Yahweh required punishment. If Yahushua (Jesus) suffered some required punishment, whose punishment was it? Certainly not his own because he was innocent. Certainly not the unrighteous because they will suffer for their own deeds. And it couldn't have been punishment for the righteous because they are saved through the gifts of faith, mercy, forgiveness and grace. Any punishment REQUIRED by Yahweh would negate those gifts.

It is false that anyone else could REQUIRE Yahweh to do anything, much less punish His only begotten Son by execution.

More importantly is the false implication that we could be saved because some penalty was or was not "paid".

It is false that there is any law or nature of Yahweh's character that would preclude Him from doing whatever He wanted, including granting free gifts (without payment, penalty or punishment) of faith, mercy, forgiveness, and grace (which He has promised).

If our sins were NOT transferred to the Messiah, then he was punished unjustly. If they were transferred, then he wasn't sinless.

Most importantly, this theory is based on the violent death of the Son and we reach the impossible point of "who did it", the Father? or sinful men completing our Salvation by carrying out the required punishment?

Penal Substitution Theory of Atonement (link to wikipedia)

Calvin and Luther propounded this theory as part of their reformation.

It contrasts with Anselm’s Satisfaction Theory (below) in that God is not satisfied with a debt of justice being paid by Jesus, but that God is satisfied with punishing Jesus in the place of mankind.

It argues that the Christ, by his own sacrificial choice, was punished (penalised) in the place of sinners (substitution), thus satisfying the demands of justice so Yahweh can justly forgive sins. It is thus a specific understanding of substitutionary atonement, where the substitutionary nature of Jesus' death is understood in the sense of a substitutionary punishment. This is the most commonly held theory in Protestantism.

In this theory, Yahweh, himself needs (requires) the punishment for His satisfaction. In the Governmental Theory of Atonement, not Yahweh, but His GOVERNMENT requires the punishment.


There are many verses that SEEM to support this theory. For example:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures . . . (1 Corinthians 15:3)

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." (Galatians 3:13)

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (1 Peter 3:18)

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

Isaiah 53:5-12 contains 9 statements of substitution (quotations below are from the NASB).

pierced through for our transgressions (verse 5)
crushed for our iniquities (verse 5)
chastening for our well-being fell upon Him (verse 5)
by His scourging we are healed (verse 5)
iniquity of us all to fall on Him (verse 6)
cut off . . . for the transgression of my people (verse 8)
Although . . . no violence nor was there any deceit . . . guilt offering (verses 9-10)
bear their iniquities (verse 11)
bore the sins of many (verse 12)


Taking the verses above (and others like them) without harmonizing them with contrasting and conflicting verses, will yield acceptance of this theory (as many have). But it is false.

This theory is very similar to the Governmental Theory of Atonement and most of those same errors apply.

More specifically, the early Christians knew nothing of a "substitutionary" atonement. Eastern Christianity rejects the satisfaction and penal substitution theories. A closer look at Scripture reveals an astonishing lack of support for penal substitution. The Scriptures never say that Jesus "died in our place" or "paid for our sins."

There is no support for the false concept that sins can be transferred (substituted). There is no mechanism for that transfer. Man can't initiate the transfer. If he could, the rich would pay the poor to accept their sins and the "church" would have been profiting long ago (similar to indulgences).

Of course, all things are possible with Yahweh God, but did He make any substitution of sin? If so, what sins did He transfer? When? How? Whose? Everyones'? or only the righteous'?

If everyones', the unrighteous will suffer double jeopardy, Yahushua paying the penalty once, and then they will pay it again themselves in the lake of fire.

If He transferred ONLY the sins of the righteous, they had no sins (already being righteous).

Maybe He transferred only the sins of those who would BECOME righteous. That would negate the statements that Yahushua's sacrifice was for all men. AND how would He know WHO, prior to the judgment. Of course he knows the end from the beginning, so maybe He used foreknowledge to know who's sins to transfer.

That begs the questions "What then, is the purpose of the future judgment?" and "Does that preclude the ability of repentance for those whose sins were NOT substituted?"

"Substitution" or "Transfer" of sins is one of the most pernicious lies ever suggested by Satan. It is very much like "You shall not die".

Yahweh promised throughout the Scriptures that those who repent would have life. He was not looking for payment for their sins, but repentance and turning back to Him.

I desired mercy and not sacrifice; the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. Hoseah 6:6

Thus says Yahweh of hosts, the God of Israel: " ... I did not speak to your fathers, nor command them in the day they came out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. Instead, this is what I commanded them, saying, 'Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people." Jeremiah 7:21-23

Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of YHWH was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:7-8

This verse plainly says that the purpose of the coming of the Son was NOT to "pay a substituted penalty", but to "destroy the works of the devil".

Satisfaction Theory of Atonement (link to wikipedia)

The satisfaction theory of atonement teaches that Jesus Christ suffered the Crucifixion as a substitute for human sin, satisfying God due to Christ's infinite merit. The theory draws primarily from the works of Anselm of Canterbury (11th century). It has been traditionally taught in the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed traditions of Western Christianity. Theologically and historically, the word "satisfaction" does not mean gratification as in common usage, but rather "to make restitution": mending what has been broken, or paying back what was taken. Since one of God's characteristics is justice, affronts to that justice must be atoned for. It is thus connected with the legal concept of balancing out an injustice.

Anselm regarded his satisfaction view of the atonement as a distinct improvement over the older ransom theory of atonement, which he saw as inadequate. Anselm's theory was a precursor to the refinements of Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin, who introduced the idea of punishment to meet the demands of divine justice.

This is the first Atonement theory to bring up the notion that God is acted upon by the Atonement (i.e. that Jesus' sacrifice satisfies or appeases God). All other satisfaction theories also see man acting on God, rather than God acting on man - as if God needs to change instead of man.


This is an older (closer to true) theory than "punishment" theories. It speaks of restitution instead of punishment. Restitution is a Biblical principal. Punishment is also Biblical, but I have failed to find any examples of retaliatory punishment, only resultant punishment (cause and effect - see Punishment - Yahweh vs Satan).


This theory has similarities to the Governmental Theory of Atonement and most of those same errors apply.

Yahweh, under His earthly law, required restitution among men. If I stole your ox, I had to make restitution by returning it or an equivalent. The law did NOT require you (the victim) to accept the restitution. You could forgive the trespass without receiving restitution by showing mercy (or even giving your coat or cloke, too - Luke 6:29). It may be true that most men required restitution, but Yahweh is NOT most men. He is MERCIFUL. Giving Yahweh the attributes of most men removes His mercy and forgiveness. If the debt has been "paid", what is the purpose of faith, mercy, forgiveness and grace?

"Satisfaction" is a false earthly requirement NOT in keeping with the nature, love, mercy and forgiveness of our Father.

If our sins were NOT transferred to the Messiah, then he was punished unjustly. If they were transferred, then he wasn't sinless.

The previously discussed theories (above) are more false than true. The following theories are older and more true than false. Each of the following has significant Biblical support. The following theories are not exclusive and can all be true or partially true. They all date from apostolic time or before and at least as early as the first two or three centuries, A.D.

Ransom Theory of Atonement (link to wikipedia)

This theory (introduced by Origen and becoming popular during the fourth century AD) teaches that the death of Christ was a ransom sacrifice, usually said to have been paid to Satan or to death itself, in some views paid to God the Father, in satisfaction for the bondage and debt on the souls of humanity as a result of inherited sin.


Jesus himself says that he came to be a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45), and Paul echoes that he paid a ransom for all 1 Timothy 2:6.

This theory is an older (and closer to true) theory than all the "satisfaction" and "punishment" theories. It doesn't speak of transference or substitution of sin. It is a true (but incomplete) analogy.

It is true that man was in bondage to sin and that Satan was his master. It is also true that Yahweh gave His Son, sending him to earth to free man from bondage. The word "ransom" was used to illustrate how man became free. If it goes only that far, the analogy works perfectly.

Another good thing about this analogy is one of the synonyms of ransom is "redemption". Redemption speaks to delivering the hostages, setting the captives free and the Bible is full of redemption.


The basic idea of a ransom is not false nor foreign to scripture. The problem is, carrying the analogy too far. This theory of atonement isn't false (unlike all those above), it is just limited.

For example, by extending the theory too far, who demands the ransom?

If God the Father is the one demanding the ransom payment, does this mean that he is the one who captured / enslaved mankind? Or, suppose the devil is the one demanding the ransom payment. In this case we can easily view the devil as having captured mankind. However, it is difficult to imagine a devil so powerful (or a God so weak) that God must actually meet the devil's demands. This would entirely destroy the concept of God's sovereignty — a God which is under no obligations to anyone outside himself. (The only thing that puts demands on a sovereign God is his own nature.) On the contrary, if we limit our understanding of ransom to its basics and to what is said about Christ's ransom in scripture, we find no conflict with other doctrines.

There are only three verses that mention ransom in relation to salvation, Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45, 1 Timothy 2:6. Both gospel verses discuss His LIFE of ministry. Not one of these verses say that "death on the cross" was the required ransom. Instead they say that the Messiah's LIFE was the ransom. This could be interpreted as His death, but only by His death becoming a pagan appeasement.

The three previous verses no more say that the paid ransom results in salvation than the following verse, which would make the wicked to be saviors:

The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous, and the transgressor for the upright. Proverbs 21:18

Scapegoat Theory of Atonement (link to wikipedia)

In Christianity, especially in Protestantism, this process prefigures the sacrifice of Christ on the cross through which God has been propitiated and sins can be expiated. Jesus Christ is seen to have fulfilled all of the Biblical "types" - the High Priest who officiates at the ceremony, Yahweh's goat that deals with the pollution of sin and the scapegoat that removes the "burden of sin". Christians believe that sinners who own their guilt and confess their sins, exercising faith and trust in the person and sacrifice of Jesus, are forgiven of their sins.

The Scapegoat Theory is a modern Atonement theory rooted in the philosophical concept of the Scapegoat. Here the key figures are Rene Girard and James Allison. Within this theory of the Atonement Jesus Christ dies as the Scapegoat of humanity.

Scapegoating is considered to be a form of non-violent atonement because Jesus is not a sacrifice but a victim. There are many Philosophical concepts that come up within this model, but in a general sense we can say that Jesus Christ as the Scapegoat means the following. 1) Jesus is killed by a violent crowd. 2) The violent crowd kills Him believing that He is guilty. 3) Jesus is proven innocent, as the true Son of God. 4) The crowd is therefore deemed guilty.


This theory of atonement is taken directly from the earthly sacrificial system given by Yahweh as a type (example). So who am I to argue?

It depends on no substitution of sins, no punishment, no acting on God or appeasing Him, no required payment, no violence by God. Because Jesus is the victim, not a sacrifice, the error of salvation through suffering is avoided. This theory relies on none of the false concepts propounded in the previous (above-mentioned) theories.


What this theory of atonement fails to do is explain HOW salvation occurs. It is mechanistic and legalistic. These are NOT errors or falsehoods, only shortcomings. This theory is not wrong, but there is more than is explained by this theory.

Moral Influence Theory of Atonement (link to wikipedia)

The moral influence view of the atonement holds that the purpose and work of Jesus Christ was to bring positive moral change to humanity. This moral change came through the teachings and example of Jesus, the Christian movement he founded, and the inspiring effect of his martyrdom and resurrection. It is one of the oldest views of the atonement in Christian theology and is a prevalent view for most of Christian history.

The moral influence framework depicts God as concerned about only the present and future states of people's moral character, and not their past states. God desires people to become more loving. When people truly change, God is no longer concerned with their previous character and thus is willing to freely forgive their previous actions. The moral influence framework thus teaches that God's forgiveness is free and conditioned only on repentance (i.e. moral change).

The moral influence view is often misconstrued as teaching merely that Jesus willingly died on the cross to demonstrate his love and thus inspire people to follow him. The scope of the full moral influence view is much larger, however. The moral influence view does not focus primarily on the death of Jesus in the same way that penal substitution does.

Instead, it focuses on the wider story of Christ's LIFE, teachings, example, and the church movement he founded. His death is seen as inspirational within that context, but his death was not the goal in the way that penal substitution depicts it. The moral influence view depicts Jesus' death as a martyrdom (execution), in which he was killed because of his teaching and leadership of a controversial movement. Jesus' death is thus understood as a consequence of his activity, and it gains its significance as part of the larger story of his life, death, and resurrection.


This theory is correct about its claims.


It fails to sufficiently define salvation and its process.

Recapitulation Theory of Atonement (link to wikipedia)

Besides the Bible itself, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, in the first two centuries A.D. expounded on this theory. One of the main New Testament scriptures upon which this view is based states: "[God's purpose is, in] the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth..." (Ephesians 1:10, RV). The Greek word for 'sum up' were literally rendered 'to recapitulate' in Latin.

In the recapitulation view of the atonement, Christ is seen as the new Adam who succeeds where the original Adam failed. Christ undoes the wrong that Adam did and, because of his union with humanity, leads humankind on to eternal life (including moral perfection).


Yahushua, the Messiah is correctly described as the "new Adam". Where Adam failed, the Messiah succeeded. Through the first Adam, all die, through the second Adam, all are alive. 1 Corinthians 15:22,45


This theory is correct but doesn't sufficiently define the atonement.

Christ Victorious Can Atone (link to wikipedia)

Under the "Christus Victor" theory of the Atonement in Christianity, Christ's death defeated the powers of evil, which had held humankind in their dominion. It is a model of the atonement that is dated to the Church Fathers, and it, or the related ransom theory, was the dominant theory of the atonement for a thousand years, until Anselm of Canterbury supplanted it in the West with his Satisfaction theory of atonement.

Christ did not pay a price to the devil but instead defeated him and the powers of evil that held humanity in bondage. The ransom is not seen in terms of a business deal or a transaction or legalistic action but instead was a liberation from slavery or in freedom from bondage / imprisonment.

Classically, the Christus Victor theory of Atonement is widely considered to be the dominant theory for most of the historical Christian Church.

In this theory, correctly interpreted, Jesus Christ's LIFE was the victory because his life of obedience proved that Satan's claim that Yahweh's law was impossible to keep, was a lie. Jesus death (not as some punishment, satisfaction, or blood sacrifice) put an end to Satan's reign because it marked the end of the battle, he won. Christ the victor defeated the powers of evil (such as sin, death, and the devil) and freed mankind from bondage. This is related to the Ransom view with the difference being that there is no payment to the devil or to God.

Gustaf Aulen argued that this theory of the Atonement is the most consistently held theory for church history, especially in the early church up until the 12th century before Anslem’s satisfaction theory came along. He writes that “the work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil.” He calls this theory the “classic” theory of the Atonement. While some will say that Christus Victor is compatible with other theories of the Atonement, others argue that it is not. Most theologians believe that Christus Victor is true, even if it is not for them the primary theory of Christ’s death.


He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of YHWH was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8

The story of atonement is described in the parable of the land owner who sent his son and was killed. That death was not a sacrifice, it was a murder. That murder clearly demonstrated (unmasked) the character of the wicked tenant husbandmen. Likewise, Satan was unmasked and defeated.


None - This is true atonement.

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