What Is The Meaning of Christ's Death?

Jason Dulle

The Problem · Alternative Interpretations in the Church · Biblical Teaching · Systematic Formulation · Apologetic Interaction · Relevance to Life and Ministry

The Problem

The death of Christ has held a place of prominence in Christian theology since the days of the apostles. Their stress on this aspect of Christís life is evident by their many references to His blood. That the divine stage of Christís crucifixion played a central role in Paulís theology is evident from his words to the Corinthian church: "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (I Corinthians 2:2).

There is no doubt that Christís death occurred in history, but why was it emphasized as much as it was in the NT? What was the significance of Christís sacrifice? Why was it important? All historical event needing interpreting. Doctrine is the attempt to interpret the Biblical-historical story. It is not enough to say that Christ died. There is no good news in this message. The death of Christ on the cross is only good news if it is interpreted in a certain way. The question we concern ourselves with is how to interpret the cross.

The Biblical authors did not give us a full, or systematic explanation of the meaning of Christís death. Trying to piece their sporadic sayings together into one meaningful understanding is like trying to assemble a puzzle without the picture of the puzzle on the cover of the box to guide youóit can be done, but with much greater difficulty and caution. This paper attempts to make sense out of the Biblical data, constructing as accurate of a picture as possible, concerning the meaning of Christís death.

Alternative Interpretations in the Church

There have been several varied interpretations of the meaning of Christís death and several explanations as to who was effected by the giving of His life. There are also differences pertaining to the way in which man is affected by the atonement. We now turn our attention to these various theories.

Ransom TheoryóVictory Over the Forces of Evil

This was the earliest theory to gain predominance in the church. It remained in this elevated status until the late Middle Ages with the advent of Anselm of Canterburyís (1033-1109) Satisfaction Theory. The Ransom Theory varied in its explication over the centuries, but the most common explanation of Christís atonement was that it was a ransom paid to the Devil. There is a cosmic battle between God and the Devil, good and evil. Satan was able to establish control over mankind and is now the governing power over the world. His rights as the leader and authority over man were not set aside by God by taking man back to Himself, because God would not stoop to the methods of Satan. As a result all of mankind remained enslaved to an unfit ruler.

God made a bargain with Satan which entailed a transfer of the sinless soul of Jesus Christ for all other souls of men. Jesusí soul became a ransom to be paid to the Devil. The Devil, who did not realize that Jesus was God manifest in flesh, agreed to this. After releasing all the souls of men back to God, the Devil realized that Jesus was God, and that His deity had been concealed from him. Because Jesus was the Son of God, He rose from the dead. In the end, God gained all the souls of men back to Himself including Jesusí soul, and Satan was left with nothing. Christ was the victor over Satan, triumphing over evil.

It was the Devil, not God, who demanded the blood of Jesus. The atonement was primarily for Satan, not God or man. Man was affected by the atonement, but it was not done to change man toward God, or God toward man.

The Scriptural support for this theory comes from I Corinthians 6:20 where Paul said, "For you were bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body." Origen relied heavily on this verse. Mark 10:45 was also used as support: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Origen and Gregory of Nyssa were the early developers of this view. Most of the church Fathers subscribed to this theory. The major exceptions are Athanasius and Gregory of Nazianzus.

Satisfaction TheoryóAtonement as Compensation to the Father

Anselm of Canterbury developed this view in medieval Europe under the feudal system of his day. Having a high view of Godís holiness and law, Anselm pictured God as a feudal lord who, to maintain His honor, insists on adequate satisfaction for any encroachment on that honor by His "surfs." Great attention is focused on Godís injured honor, to the neglect of the idea of a penal substitutionary death of Christ.1 Sin is seen as a failure to render to God due honor, which injures Godís person. This violated honor can be rectified either by the punishment of those who violated it, or by accepting satisfaction for the violation. God chose the latter method because a certain amount of men needed to be saved to replace the number of angels who fell from heaven.2

Man not only needs to restore Godís honor, but needs to make satisfaction (reparation) to God for dishonoring Him. The idea is similar to the modern idea of punitive damages. It is a price that needs to be paid above and beyond that which was accrued in debt. Unfortunately man could not provide his own satisfaction. To the medieval mind, "the recompense must be proportional to the dignity of the offended party, in this case God. Consequently, finite persons cannot make an infinite satisfaction for the offense committed against the Lord of the universe."3 Even if man gave his best he could only give back to God what was due Him, nothing more. Man needed someone qualified who could make an infinite satisfaction to God. Since God alone is infinite, only He could make such satisfaction. But if satisfaction was to be of any avail to man, man would have to be involved also. This necessitated the incarnation of God. As the God-man, Jesus Christ, in offering His life to God on behalf of man, went beyond that which was required of Him because He was sinless and had no need of death. Christís death brought satisfaction to Godís wounded honor for all of mankind.

In Anselmís theory of the atonement, God is the one primarily affected by Christís death. The atonement was not directed toward man. Man did not need to be restored to God per se, for it was God who could not commune with man because of His wounded honor. Man desired fellowship with God, but God had to rectify His honor first. Christ died to satisfy something within Godís very nature, and thus restore fellowship between He and His creation.

Moral-Influence TheoryóAtonement as the Demonstration of Godís Love

This view was first developed by Peter Abelard (1079-1142) in reaction to Anselmís Satisfaction Theory. He did not agree that Jesusí death served to satisfy Godís wounded honor, but saw the atonement as the perfect example of Godís love for man. He emphasized the divinity of Christ. Abelard contended that God has never needed to be reconciled to man, but that man, because of their sin and ignorance, has alienated themselves from God through fear. The natural response of sin is that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Edenóhiding from the presence of God. What needed to be rectified, then, was our fear of God and ignorance of His love. Man need not fear Godís judgment because Godís love is so abundant toward us.

Christ showed us that God is not against us. He demonstrated through His suffering and death Godís great desire to relate to us in our pain and suffering. When sinners view Godís love for us through Christ, they will be compelled to cast off their fear of God, and fellowship with Him as was originally intended.

Abelard contended that Jesusí death was not the purpose of His coming, but was a consequence of it. All of Jesusí life demonstrated Godís love for us. His death was just the ultimate expression of that love.

Scriptural support for this theory comes from Luke 19:10 where Jesus said that He came to seek and save that which was lost. The idea here is that man cannot find their way to God because of the barrier of fear, but Jesus came to seek these souls out and demonstrate that they have no reason to fear God. Paulís statement that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself" was also used (II Corinthians 5:19).

Socinian TheoryóAtonement as Example

This view of the atonement was developed in the sixteenth century by Faustus and Laelius Socinus. They did not accept any idea of Christís death being a vicarious satisfaction to God. Their view of Jesus was that of a purely human being. Their understanding of man was Pelagian, denying that man is inherently sinful and estranged from God. Man is inherently good, and can keep the law of God with the right motivation to do so. God is not a God of retributive justice so He does not demand satisfaction from, or in behalf of those who sinned against Him. In contradistinction to the Moral-Influence Theory which said Jesusí death was the demonstration of Godís love for us, Socinus and Faustus said Jesusí death was the most beautiful example to man on how we should love God and be humble. The death of Jesus shows us the love for God we need in order to be saved, and inspires us to believe that we can love God completely.

Scriptural support for this view is found in Peterís statement to the scattered churches: "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps" (I Peter 2:21). Johnís injunction to believers to walk as Jesus walked also demonstrates the fact that Jesusí life is a pattern to follow (I John 2:6).

Governmental TheoryóDemonstration of Divine Justice

Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) was the major champion of this view. Being a lawyer and not a theologian, he stressed the law of God and the seriousness of the violations against this law. While the Moral-Influence and Socinian Theories paint a picture of God as being sympathetic to sin, the Governmental Theory elaborated on Godís holiness, law, and the seriousness of sin. It was not enough to simply do oneís best or respond to Godís love.

God is very holy and He gave man certain laws. Violations of those laws are not necessarily attacks on Godís person as Anselm had claimed, but they are an attack on God as Ruler over man. God is not like a creditor or a master who can forgive debt or sin. Because He governs man He must always act in the best interest of those under His authority. As a result, His justice must be demonstrated against sin. He could not just freely forgive sin, thus bypassing justice. God thought it to be in the best interests of man to send Christ to die.

Christís death was not just an example, but it objectively satisfied Godís justice. It was not a substitutionary death for us so that we could escape the penalty due us, but was a substitution for a penalty. It made punishment unnecessary. Grotius did not believe it even possible for one person to pay the penalty for another individualís transgression of the law. Punishment, it is argued, cannot be transferred. Christ could not have borne our penalty.

Because of the atonement God was made able to deal with us mercifully. The atonement impacted God, but it primarily affected man. Millard Erickson explained that in the Governmental view "the purpose of Christís death was not to satisfy the demands of Godís nature so that he might be enabled to do what he otherwise could not have done, namely, forgive sins. Rather, Christís death enabled God to forgive sins or remit punishment in a new way which would not have unfavorable consequences or adverse effects upon humans."4

The atonement also demonstrated what would happen to us if we continue in sin. On the subjective level it also was a deterrent to sin by demonstrating the vile consequences that sin brings. Thus salvation was not for retribution, but for deterrence from sin.


This view of the atonement was primarily popularized by the Reformers. They agreed with Anselm that sin was very serious, but they saw sin as breaking the law of God, rather than merely wounding His honor.5 Godís law is holy. The infringement of Godís law brings Godís wrath ad curse on the evildoers. To avert the wrath of God, Christ took the sinnerís place, making an atonement for their sins. Instead of us receiving death for our sins, Christ tasted death for everyone, that they might experience life.


Karl Barth maintained that Jesusí death reconciled the world to God. He did not believe that Christ appeased the wrath of God against sinners, however. Because of the incarnation Jesus took humanity with Him to the cross, representing all men with Him. Jesus did not bear our sin in our place, but we were with Him in His humanity on the cross.

Jesusí death achieved a cosmic victory. Ontologically (petaining to the nature and essential properties of existence)ly all men have been won back to God, but not all men have come to realize their redeemed status (epistemological). Once the Spirit brings the realization of redemption to a manís mind, he will be saved.

Biblical Teaching


The Levitical sacrificial system was based on the sacrificing of innocent blood for the sin of the worshipper offering the sacrifice. The worshipper would put his hand on the head of the animal to be sacrificed, and then slay it to YHWH. This was to make an atonement for worshipper (Leviticus 1:4; See also 4:20; 5:10, 13; Numbers 5:8).

The Day of Atonement was an annual festival in ancient Israel. On this day, known today as Yom Kippur, the high priest would sacrifice animals to atone for his own sins and those of the priesthood (Leviticus 16:11-14). Then he would sacrifice one of two male goats and sprinkle its blood on the mercy-seat in the Holy of Holies as an atonement for the sins of the people (Leviticus 16:15-19). Following this he would lay his hand on the other goat, and after confessing the sins of the people, would send the goat into the wilderness (Leviticus 16:8-10).

That which atoned for the sins of Israel was the blood. YHWH said, "For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul" (Leviticus 17:11). Without the shedding of blood there could be no atonement for sin.

Atonement was also made for the Israelite males of twenty years old and upwards by paying a ransom price (koper) of a half-shekel. This was not for sin, but for YHWH, which was then given to the service of the tabernacle. In other cases, as explained above, the ransom was the life of an animal or even the life of a human (II Samuel 21:2-7). In such cases we understand atonement to mean " Ďto avert punishment, especially the divine anger, by the payment of a koper, a ransom,í which may be of money or which may be of life."6

Poetry and Wisdom

David believed that the Lord had atoned for the sins of the faithful (Psalm 65:3). Another psalmist believed that in the Lord was full redemption, and that this redemption would be received by Israel (Psalm 130:7-8).

In Psalm 40:6-8, David speaking prophetically of the Messiah, said that God did not desire sacrifices and offerings, nor did He require burnt offerings and sin offerings. What God did require was that His law be in the heart of believers, and that they do His will. Mercy could be gained apart from sacrifices for sin (Psalm 40:11).

Another psalm declares that the Lord "will redeem Israel from all their sins" (Psalm 130:8). The Hebrew word here is padah, meaning the transference from one owner to another through payment of a certain price or suitable substitute.7 This is the only time, of the sixty times this word is used, that this word is used in the sense of redemption from sin. It draws its significance and parallel from its secular references, and the references in the Law to redeeming property and individuals with a certain price.

The Prophets

Isaiah prophesied of the coming suffering servant. It was said of him that "he took up our weaknesses and carried our sorrows" (Isaiah 53:4a). He was smitten of God, stricken, and afflicted (53:4b). He was also fatally wounded for our transgressions, the punishment bringing us peace was on him, and by His wounds we are healed (53:5). The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of all (53:6, c.f. v.8), which will lead to othersí justification. Language such as "carried" and "laid on," in connection with "for us" is clearly substitutionary. The fact that this suffering was penal is indicated by the fact that the punishment was for iniquity. The suffering servant was to suffer on behalf of othersí iniquities, bearing their punishment.

Daniel prophesied that a period of seventy weeks were appointed for Israel in order to "finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness" (Daniel 9:24). Immediately after this the Messiah is mentioned (9:26). It seems that Daniel was connecting the coming of the Messiah with this activity.

Synoptic Gospels

Matthew begins his gospel with the angelic announcement to Mary to name the baby conceived in her womb, Jesus. He was to be named such because He "would save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21b). Matthew also quoted Jesusí words saying that "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom [lytron] for many [anti pollon]" (20:28; cf. Mark 10:45). Lytron (used only in these two references in this form) indicates the means by which release from something is made possible.8 This word usually carries with it the idea of a payment for release, and was commonly used in classical Greek and the LXX to denote a payment to release a slave from his bondage. The significance of anti is that it is used in the genitive to mean "instead of." Jesus gave his life for a ransom in our stead.

All three of the synoptic authors mention Jesusí statement at the Last Supper when He said, This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you" (Luke 22:21; Mark 14:24; Matthew 26:28). Luke and Mark specifically use the preposition hyper, translated "for." This word means "in behalf of." Matthew uses peri, which is used in similar meaning. Here again we see the idea of substitution. Jesus was dying on behalf of others.

Pauline Corpus

The Apostle Paul has the most to say concerning the meaning of Christís death. He declared Christís death to be a redemption, and a propitiation for us through His blood (Romans 3:24-25). Jesus was delivered over to death due to our wrongdoing, and was raised again for the sake of our justification (4:25). This statement echoes the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. Jesusí death was for us.

Christís death was wrought for us while we were sinners so that we might be reconciled to God once again (Romans 5:8, 10). It is through Christ that we receive the reconciliation (v. 11). It was we who needed to be reconciled to God. We had wronged Him, causing the rift in relationship, but God came in Christ to reconcile us back to Himself (II Corinthians 5:19-20). God made Jesus to be sin for us (hyper), so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (v. 21). Jesus was made to be sin on our behalf. His death was substitutionary. Jesus receives our sin while we receive His righteousness.

To the Ephesian church Paul noted that we have redemption by means of Christís blood, even the forgiveness of our sins (Ephesians 1:7; c.f. Colossians 1:14). Christís death also brought the Gentiles near to God, who were once alienated from Him (Ephesians 2:12-13). 	Though we were once enemies of God, being alienated from him, God reconciled us to Him, having made peace through the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:20-21). Christís death even took the barrier of the Law of Moses out of the way of the Gentiles by nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:14). Now we are no longer subject to ordinances that are opposed to us.

In Paulís pastoral letter to Timothy he noted that "Christ gave himself a ransom for all" (I Timothy 2:6). To Titus he also added that Christ gave Himself for (hyper) us, to redeem us from sin, and purify a people eager for good works (Titus 2:14).

Johanine Corpus

In Johnís gospel he recorded John the Baptistís assessment of Jesus, "Behold the Lame of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29). John saw Christ as the Servant of Isaiah 53:10 and 11 who would bear the sins of others. The mention of "lamb" brings to mind the sacrificial system in the OT, specifically the Paschal lamb for the Passover feast. John uses this same imagery in Revelation where the lamb is seen to be slain (Revelation 5:6, 9, 12; 13:8).

Jesus is the propitiation (hilasmos) for our sins. This Greek word has to do with expiation, the means by which sins are forgiven. It carries with it the idea of the removal of wrath.9 John used this word again in I John 4:10 when he said that it was not our love for God, but Godís love for us that He sent Jesus Christ as an expiation for our sins.

John believed that Jesusí blood had the power to cleanse us from all sin (I John 1:7). It was for this purpose that Jesus was manifested (3:5).

Other New Testament Writings

Peter reminded his readers that they were redeemed (set free, liberated) with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without spot or blemish (I Peter 1:18-19). The Greek word for "redeemed," lutroo, was used for the freeing of slaves. The imagery here is that Jesus Christ has freed us from the bondage of sin so that we might live holy (vs. 14-17).

Probably the most significant contribution Peter makes to our understanding of the atonement is found in I Peter 3:18 where he said, "For Christ also has suffered once for sins, the righteous for (hyper) the unrighteous, so that he might bring you to GodÖ" (I Peter 3:18). The purpose of the righteous Christís suffering was on behalf of (hyper) the unrighteous so that they could be brought to God. This clearly demonstrates the substitutionary death of Christ, and the fact that His death was for the purpose of reconciling man to God. According to Peter the death of Christ primarily affects man.

The author of Hebrews said that Jesus suffered and died so that "he could taste death for every man" (Hebrews 2:9). Again we see the substitutionary aspect of Christís death. Instead of man having to suffer death for our own sins, Jesus tasted that death for us so that we might escape it ourselves. Christís death also accomplished a spiritual defeat of the one who has the power over death, i.e. the Devil, and to deliver from bondage those who fear death (2:14-15). This passage would lend credence to the Ransom Theory of the atonement.

The author continues to say that remission can only come through the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). For this reason Jesus shed His blood once, and thus "put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (9:26). This offering was "to bear the sins of many" (9:28; c.f. 10:12). This seems to be another reference to the suffering servant of Isaiah.

Systematic Formulation

Our understanding of the atonement is highly dependent on our understanding of God and the nature of sin. So before we can examine a systematic understanding regarding the atonement, we must first examine these two key concepts.

God is a holy and just God, who cannot tolerate sin (Leviticus 11:45; Deuteronomy 32:4; II Kings 23:26; Isaiah 30:27-31; Lamentations 3:42). His holiness sets the standard of the law, while his justness demands that His law be obeyed. If His law is not obeyed, punishment must be inflicted on the trespasser.

It might be wondered why God is so strict concerning His Law, and why He needs to punish those who transgress it. Godís zeal for His law is due to the nature of the Lawgiver. The law of God is not some external code that God keeps or has made up specifically for mankind. Neither is Godís law arbitrary. He does not simply decide to approve this and condemn that. Rather Godís law flows from His nature. It is a portrait of His person. When we obey Godís law, we are not merely keeping a code of conduct, but relating to God Himself.10 The law has no inherent value or dignity apart from God. When we keep or break Godís law we are relating to God Himself. Sin is not merely the breaking of a law, but transgressing against the very nature of God, thus creating a personal attack on God Himself.11 Breaking Godís law, then, hinders the relationship between us and Him.

We must not think of God, however, as merely being a God of wrath. Godís mercy is seen all throughout the OT (Psalm 85:2; Isaiah 55:7; Micah 7:18). He is not a God who is looking to punish everybody who sins, every time they sin. Instead, God is slow to anger and eager to forgive (Jeremiah 26:12-13; Joel 2:13-14).

Because of Adamís sin in the Garden of Eden, mankind is in a place of spiritual separation from God. As a result of Adam, all of mankind is in a state of spiritual death, condemnation, and judgment (Romans 5:12-21). Isaiah testified that our iniquities have separated us from God, and our sins cause Him to hide His face from us (Isaiah 59:2). Paul demonstrated the utter sinfulness of all men, declaring that there are none who are righteous who will seek after God, but all men have turned aside from Him (Romans 3:1-12). The natural result of our spiritual state is death (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:1-3). The only deliverance from this condition is the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Having examined the nature of God and man, we now turn our attention to the nature of the atonement. We look first a the OT. The Aaronic sacrificial system did prefigure Christís ultimate sacrifice. It demonstrated that there was the necessity of reconciliation to God by blood; however, it did not reveal the nature of the reconciliation.12 This is important because we must find the deeper meaning of the atonement from the anti-type, not the type. The OT sacrifices were a precursor to Christís ultimate sacrifice, and thus give us some knowledge of the nature of the atonement, but it is the NT that gives us the broader meaning of its nature. For this reason the NT data carries greater weight for our understanding of the atonement. This is not to say, however, that the OT never painted us a good picture of the nature of atonement. Surely Isaiah 53 was a tremendous prophetic utterance concerning the nature of Godís atoning plan for the world.

Looking at the OT briefly, however, we will examine the central idea of atonement. The Hebrew word most commonly used for this concept is kaphar. It is used approximately 150 times. It is commonly believed that the basic meaning is "to cover." The authors of Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament have this to say concerning this idea:

There is an equivalent Arabic root meaning "cover," or "conceal." On the strength of this connection it has been supposed that the Hebrew word means "to cover over sin" and thus pacify the deity, making an atonement (so BDB). It has been suggested that the OT ritual symbolized a covering over of sin until it was dealt with in fact by the atonement of Christ. There is, however, very little evidence for this view. The connection of the Arabic word is weak and the Hebrew root is not used to mean "cover." The Hebrew verb is never used in the simple or Qal stem, but only in the derived intensive stems. These intensive stems often indicate not emphasis, but merely that the verb is derived from a noun whose meaning is more basic to the root idea.13

The meaning of kaphar is "to atone by offering a substitute."14 It is most always used in contexts speaking of the removal of sin or defilement. It was a symbolic expression on the part of the worshipper, giving an innocent life in the place of a guilty life.

Coming to the NT, we find that Jesusí sacrifice of atonement was both representative and substitutionary. He was our representative in that he acted on our behalf in such a way as to involve us in his action. He was our substitution inasmuch as He acted in our place, causing our action in the event to be unnecessary.15 That Christ acted on our behalf is evident from the use of hyper in Romans 5:8; 8:32; Galatians 2:20; and Hebrews 2:9. These verses clearly demonstrate that Christ stood in for us. Christ did not merely represent us, however. He also became our substitute. By submitting to, and receiving the divine wrath for sin that we should have received, Jesus redeemed us from that wrath. He took the punishment for us so that we would not have to.

The reason Christ could be a suitable sacrifice for us is because He was sinless (II Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15). Being sinless, He did not have to pay any penalty for sin. Jesus did not have to die for sin as we do, but he willingly submitted Himself to death (Philippians 2:8) so that He could taste death for everyone (Hebrews 2:9), and thus destroy the power of death (I Corinthians 15:26, 54-55; II Timothy 1:10; Hebrews 2:14).

The idea of Christís sacrificial death as a substitution for us is very clear in the Scripture. It is said that because Christ died for all, "therefore all have died" (II Corinthians 5:14). If by one person dying, all can be said to have died, clearly the one individual stood in their place so that their death is no longer necessary. Paul said Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law "having become a curse for (hyper) us" (Galatians 3:13). The author of Hebrews said that Christ was "offered once to bear the sins of many" (Hebrews 9:28). Peter declared that Jesus "bore our sins in his body on the tree" (I Peter 2:24). God made Jesus "to be sin for us" (II Corinthians 5:21). Our sins have been transferred from our account to Christís.

Jesusí substitutionary sacrifice completed the work of atonement. It was not necessary to perform many sacrifices as they did in the OT. Christís one sacrifice for sin, that of Himself, secured salvation for us (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12, 26, 28; 10:10). There is no more sacrifice for sin. The blood of bulls and goats are no longer necessary. Christís one sacrifice has forever perfected those who are being sanctified by Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:12, 25-28; 10:10-14). The atonement is finished. All that is necessary for men is to receive the effects of the atonement by faith (II Corinthians 5:20).

How exactly did Jesusí sacrifice affect the relationship between God and man? The effects of the atonement are seen in many areas, but the primary effects are propitiation and reconciliation/justification.

Propitiation has to do with appeasing someoneís wrath. That God possesses wrath against sin has already been established previously. If people die in their sins, without settling the matter with God first, they can only expect to face divine displeasure. This is none other than Godís abiding wrath against sin.

That Godís wrath against man because of his sin, needed to be appeased, is evident from a few explicit passages. Leviticus 4:35 says, "And he [the priest] shall take away all the fat thereof, as the fat of the lamb is taken away from the sacrifice of the peace offerings; and the priest shall burn them upon the altar, according to the offerings made by fire unto the LORD: and the priest shall make an atonement for his sin that he has committed, and it shall be forgiven him." The fact that forgiveness would only come after an offering to YHWH for atonement indicates that it was God who needed to be appeased for the sin committed.

Wrath is the divine reaction to those who sin (Romans 1:18; 2:5, 8; 4:15; 5:9; 9:22; 12:19; 13:4-5; Ephesians 2:3; Colossians 3:6; I Thessalonians 1:10; 2:16). Godís wrath is his "settled opposition of his holiness to evil," not to the evildoer per se.16 In fact, if we do not give full credence to the wrath of God, and manís deserving of such wrath, we make the forgiveness of God empty and meaningless.17

The clearest example of this is found in Romans where Paul said God presented Christ as a propitiation (hilasterion) to demonstrate His justice. The reason for this was because God, in His forbearance, did not visit His wrath in its fullness on the sins committed prior to Calvary. This left God open to be charged with being unjust. His righteousness and justice could be called into question. The death of Christ removed this attack by visiting on sin the judgment it deserved, thus showing God to be just, and the justifier of those who will believe in Him (Romans 3:24-26).

Godís wrath against sin is not contrary to His love for the sinner. Robert Culpepper made the case that "Godís wrath is an integral constituent of his love. The wrath of God is the active manifestation of Godís essential incapacity to be morally indifferent and let sin alone. It denotes the attitude of God in his holy love toward willful sin. Godís wrath is Godís grace. It is his grace smitten with dreadful sorrow. It is his love in agony."18 While God may will to redeem man because of His love for them, He must fulfill this desire according to the nature of His holiness, without denying His righteousness. This is why Paul said that "God put [Jesus] forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins" (Romans 3:25, RSV). God could not let sin go unpunished, or it would make God unjust. In order to fulfill the divine desire to forgive man of their sins, and yet remain just, God presented Christ as a propitiation for our redemption (Romans 3:24-25).

This conception of the Father should not give us the idea that the Father is the angry God in heaven, and that the Son is the meek and lowly God-man on earth who averts God the Fatherís anger from humanity. The Scriptures do not portray the love of the Father for humanity to be the effect of the atonement, but rather the cause of the atonement.19 God desired to redeem man all along. God does not love us because Christ died for us, but it was the Fatherís love for which caused Christ to die for us (Romans 5:6-8; I John 4:9-10). Even after saying that God demonstrated His love for us by having Christ die for us, Paul still maintained that we were enemies of God before we were reconciled (Romans 5:8, 10-11). Even while we were enemies of God because of our sinful state, God, in Christ, still died for our sins to reconcile us to Himself (II Corinthians 5:19).

Apart from Godís manifestation of love in Christís death, the only manifestation of God we would expect from God is the manifestation of His wrath. In Christís death Godís mercy and justice could both be met, thus allowing the Father to deal with the sin problem, and acquit the believer from all guilt. Jesusí death assumed our legal guilt and made our forgiveness possible. Just as Adamís sin brought condemnation to all men, Christís righteousness brought justification (Romans 5:16, 18). He assumed our sin so that we could assume His righteousness (II Corinthians 5:14, 21). Our guilt was transferred to Him as our vicarious sacrifice (endured or done by one person substituting for another) so that we would no longer experience Godís condemnation of our sin. In a very real sense Christ experienced the wrath of God against sin in our stead, so that we might experience life in Him.

Whereas propitiation appeases Godís wrath against sin, and hence the sinner, reconciliation primarily affects man. Reconciliation is necessary between individuals who have had a harmonious and peaceful relationship hindered by some offense so that there is a breach of relationship. Reconciliation, then, is a restoration of relationship with God. In our sin, we are estranged from God, separated from His face (Isaiah 59:2). We are hostile towards God in our carnal minds (Romans 8:7; Colossians 1:21), thus making us Godís enemies (Romans 5:8). It was in this state of being enemies of God that God reconciled us to Himself (Romans 5:8, 10). God is the one who initiated and objectively finished the process of reconciliation. He is the subject, and humanity or the world is always the object. It is not God who is being reconciled to man, but man to God. Paul said that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself" (II Corinthians 5:19), and again, "And you who were once estrangedÖhas he now reconciled in the body of flesh by his death" (Colossians 1:21-22; c.f. Romans 5:10).

The reconciliation of man is pictured as a finished work. It is not a work which is being done, but a work that is done.20 After noting that God was reconciling the world to Himself through Christ, Paul pleaded with the Corinthians, "Be reconciled to God" (II Corinthians 5:19-20). It has already been accomplished on our behalf at Calvary, but it is not realized subjectively in the life of an individual until He receives it by faith.

The character of reconciliation is found in Paulís statement that God "was not counting their sins against them" (II Corinthians 5:19). Reconciliation affects Godís attitude toward us. Because man is inherently sinful, which is in opposition to Godís holy nature, we are by nature the children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). God must count our sins against us. In the atonement, however, God, through Christís vicarious substitutionary death, was able to judge sin once for all, and thus no longer be hindered in His desire to show mercy and forgiveness to those who were unjust (Romans 6:10; 8:3; Hebrews 9:26, 28). As Peter said, "For Christ has also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the Spirit" (I Peter 3:18). Jesusí death brought us (those who were unjust) to God. Through the atonement, God took care of the sin problem so that He could deal mercifully and graciously with man instead of pouring out His holy wrath. George Ladd said it this way:

For it is an ethical and religious necessity that the holiness of God manifest itself in wrath against sin. Reconciliation is an act of God, initiated by his love, by virtue of which God no longer counts peopleís trespasses against them; it has to do with the divine attitude toward human beings as the result of which God no longer looks upon them as enemies, as occupying a hostile status. Ö Thus reconciliation makes a difference to God as well as to humanity.21

Apologetic Interaction

The Ransom Theory

The Ransom Theory has little to commend for it. Itís major weakness is that Christís death was a ransom paid to the Devil. There is simply no Scriptural support for such a teaching. The closest Biblical backing is found in Hebrews 2:14 where it is said that through death Christ destroyed the one who had the power of death, the Devil. All this verse demonstrates is that Christís death defeated Satan. It does not postulate the notion that Christ was a ransom paid to the Devil.

It is true that the Devil is the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2), and that He is ruling over the kingdoms of this world (Luke 4:5; Ephesians 6:12), but there is no evidence that all the souls of men are in possession of Satan. Satan is not the ruler over hell. He is only one individual who will be cast there by God. God is the ruler over hell (Revelation 19:20; 20:20). Although man is fallen, and willingly subjects himself to the devices of Satan, he does not belong to Satan. God said that all souls were His (Ezekiel 18:4). The fact that man is fallen does not mean that man belongs to Satan. Every human belongs to God. This is why God can do with us what He pleases. He can bring us to Him in heaven, or send us away from Him to hell.

The idea that God made a bargain with Satan, exchanging the sinless soul of Jesus for the sinful souls of mankind, is lacking for Biblical support. Of the many Scriptural references giving the purpose for Christís death, nowhere is this stated as one of them, yet alone the primary reason. It must be asked why the Devil would even be willing to make the trade? What made a sinless soul better than the billions of other souls that the Devil possessed? Maybe it was the fact that God was giving Satan something that did not belong to Him, and this stroked Satanís pride. Again, however, the Bible is silent.

The theory also states that the Devil did not know who Jesus really was (God Himself), and this is why he agreed to the exchange. However, the Bible indicates that the Satanic kingdom was very aware of who Christ was (Luke 4:41). The Devil was aware of Christís identity when he tempted Jesus (Matthew 4:3-11). If he was not aware of His identity, there would have been no need to be tempted in the ways that the Devil tempted Him.

Paulís statement that if the "princes of this world" had known of Godís hidden wisdom, "they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (I Corinthians 2:8) is often used to support the idea that the Satanic kingdom was not aware of who Jesus really was. Although the phrase, "the prince of this world" is used of Satanic forces elsewhere (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; Ephesians 2:2), it is used in the singular, not the plural, presumably referring to Satan Himself. The Corinthian passage uses this phrase in the plural. Although it could be taken to mean that there is more than one demonic being in view here, the context demands otherwise. Paul declared that he worked miracles so that the Corinthiansí belief would not stand in the wisdom of men, and that the wisdom he spoke of was not the same as the wisdom of the world (I Corinthians 2:5-6a). He goes on to say that the wisdom he spoke was not understood by the princes of this world, "who are passing away" (I Corinthians 2:6b). This cannot be referring to demonic forces who are immortal, but to earthly rulers whose rule is always passing away with the changing of offices and passing of time. Grammar and context both point to the fact that it was earthly rulers who were not aware of who Christ was, not demonic rulers.

This view of the atonement also makes the Devil, not God, the originator of the atonement. God did not initiate the redemption of mankind, but the Devil, although unknowingly. It was he who demanded the blood of Christ. The Biblical portrait is that Jesus was the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (I Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8). The atonement was not a plan in response to Satan, but was planned for manís redemption before there was ever a Satan to demand Jesusí sinless blood from God.

The Ransom Theory also states that the atonement did not change man toward God, or vice versa. Again, this smacks in the face of many Biblical passages. Paul said, "And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now has he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight" (Colossians 1:21-22). The atonement did affect our relationship with God. It brought about our reconciliation.

This truth of this theory is found in its assertion that there is a cosmic battle going on over menís soulsóSatan trying to subvert them from God, and God trying to lead them to Himself. This is about as much truth that can be found in this historically popular, yet unbiblical view.

Satisfaction Theory

Anselmís main thesis was that sin is the wounding of Godís honor. Jesus needed to offer satisfaction to repair this wounded honor so that God could offer mercy to man.

This view is commended for its high view of Godís holiness and the seriousness of breaking Godís law. It is also seems to be correct in claiming that Jesus had to be both God and man to make an atonement for us that would be efficacious. However, the idea that the only thing barring man from fellowship with God was Godís wounded honor is Scripturally lacking. Man was separated from God because by breaking Godís law, men are at enmity against God Himself. It is not merely Godís honor that is offended, but His person (Romans 8:7).

Socinian Theory

This theory states that Christís death was an example for us of the kind of love we should have toward God and the kind of life we should live. The problems with this theory are numerous. First of all, the main tenants that Jesus was only a man, God does not require vicarious suffering for sin, and that man is not inherently sinful have already been proven to be Scripturally false. God does require a sacrifice for inherently sinful man. Since the basic premises of this view are in dire contradiction to the abundant teaching of Scripture, there is not much else to commend this view.

This is not to say that there is not an element of truth in this theory. The truth lies in the fact that Christís death is an example for us to follow, as I Peter 2:21 and I John 2:6 attest to. We will suffer in the flesh as did Christ Himself. He is our example. The problem with the Socinian theory is that it takes this one aspect of the atonement, which is not given much attention Biblically, and makes it the thrust of the atonement. If Socinus would have read just a little farther in I Peter, he would have noticed that Peter taught that Jesusí death was a vicarious sacrifice for our sins (I Peter 2:24).

Most importantly, if Christís death did nothing for us, it would not be much of an example. It would be a meaningless act. Jesus would have given His life for no purpose. Does God approve of men giving up the life that He gave to them, for no particular reason? There is honor in giving up oneís life for a purpose, but not simply to show how dedicated one is to God. God desires us to praise Him in our lives.

It could be likened to a man who set off a grenade and then jumped on it to show the rest of his platoon the dedication it takes to be in the Army. There would be no honor in such an act. It would not be viewed as an example for others to follow, but sheer stupidity. If however, the man jumped on a grenade thrown into the bunker of his platoon by the enemy, his act would be an example of dedication and would be honored. The Socinian theory of the atonement is both Biblically lacking for evidence, and is logically absurd.

The Moral-Influence Theory

Abelardís main tenant was that Christís death was only an example of Godís love for us. It did not do anything for us spiritually, except to provide an example for us so that we could understand Godís love for us, cast off our sinful ways and our fears which kept us from fellowship with Him, and return to God.

Abelardís view has much to commend it. He was correct in seeing that man was alienated from God because of sin and fear, and that man needed to be reconciled to God as a result. He was also correct in demonstrating that God is not against us, but desires for us to return to Him. Surely Godís sacrifice of His only begotten Son for us is a great example demonstrating Godís great love for us that can provoke us to return to Him without fear.

Where the Moral-Influence Theory falls short is not in what it affirms, but in what it does not affirm. Although Christís death is a great example of Godís love for us (John 3:16), this is not the totality of the teaching of Scripture. As in most false doctrines, there is a strong element of truth presented, but the element is only one aspect of the totality of truth. Abelard made this one aspect of the atonement the entire purpose of the atonement.

This theory denies any objective element to the atonement. Nothing was truly accomplished on our behalf at Calvary. There was no true atonement for sins. God could have forgiven us apart from Christís innocent death. There was no true obstacle in the way for God to forgive us our sins.22 His death is only subjective, giving us an example of Godís love to overcome our fear of Him. The wealth of Biblical statements cited previously demonstrate that God did need a penalty paid for sins. He needed to take care of the sin problem before He could justify man and restore him to a right relationship with Himself.

The Governmental Theory

The Governmental Theoryís main proposition is that Christís death was a demonstration to the world of the seriousness of sin, and the Rulerís responsibility to judge that sin.

This theory is correct in its assessment of Godís holiness and the seriousness of sin. Grotius was incorrect, however, in His view of sin. Sin is not just an attack on God as a Ruler, but is an attack against God Himself. Godís law flows from Godís nature. It is not external to Him, as has been previously demonstrated. An infringement on Godís law is a personal attack on God. God Himself testified that sin was against Him personally (Exodus 32:33; Jeremiah 33:8). David proclaimed that his sin was against the Lord (Psalm 51:4).

Grotius was also correct in claiming that Christís death accomplished an objective basis for the forgiveness of our sins. He was wrong, however, in denying that this death was a substitution for the penalty of our sins, but rather a substitution for a penalty. He claimed that sin and punishment cannot be transferred from one person to another, but Paul made it clear that Christ was "made a curse for us," and God "made him to be sin for us" (II Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13).

His error is due to a misunderstanding of the nature of sin. It is not a physical substance that can be transferred from one person to another. Sin is falling short of Godís holy nature by transgressing His law. To transfer the guilt and responsibility from one to another is not impossible, nor is it unjust. Justice is not violated if someone else willingly takes the punishment for someone elseís crime so that the guilty individual may be justified.23


Barth was correct in asserting that Jesusí death reconciles the world to God, but he took this idea too far, to the point that he bordered on Universalism (all men will be saved). He was also mistaken in His view that Christís death did not appease the wrath of God. This has been belabored previously, so nothing more will be said here.

His view as it pertains to how Christís death could be effective for all other men is basically federalistic (Jesus is appointed as the representative for all others). The Scripture does seem to teach this by calling Jesus the "last Adam" who was sent to reverse the effects of the first Adamís sin (Romans 5:12-21; I Corinthians 15:21-22, 45). Barth is wrong, however, in his rejection of a substitutionary sacrifice of Christ for all others. Jesus may have represented all men at the cross, but this does not make all men physically present with Him. The Scripture affirms that He bore our sins by Himself on our behalf, so that we would not have to pay the penalty for our sins (Isaiah 53:6; Galatians 3:13; I Peter 2:24).

Objections to the Penal-Substitution Theory

Mercy and Justice are Incompatible

Some have seen Godís mercy and Godís justice to be at odds with one another. It is argued that Godís justice would lead to the punishment of mankind, while His mercy would lead to the forgiveness of mankind without exacting a punishment for their sin. This line of reasoning is a false dichotomy. It is not an either/or decision. Godís mercy and His justice both function in redemption. Godís mercy is what motivated God to act in history to redeem us, while Godís justice demanded the means by which that redemption would take place. Godís mercy led to His decision to redeem.24 His justice led to the particular method chosen to accomplish this end. Both Godís justice and His mercy are satisfied in the atonement.

The Concept of Substitution is not Just

This objection may seem valid at first glance. How could a judge be considered righteous if he knowingly accuses an innocent victim of a crime they did not commit, and knowingly acquits the real criminal of his crimes? Substituting the one for the other does not seem righteous. What must be remembered is that Christ willingly offered Himself as a substitute for us (John 15:13). His sacrifice was voluntary. The judge was not the one sentencing the innocent party against his will, but the innocent party requested to take the place of the guilty party. Jesus willingly laid down His life for us (John 10:17-18).

The Greek Preposition Does Not Support the Idea of Substitution

Many have claimed that hyper with the genitive case (in behalf of), which is the preposition usually used in connection with the idea of atonement or reconciliation, does not carry the idea of substitution. It is said that only anti (instead of) carries this idea, which is only used in Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45 (excepting the compound uses found elsewhere in connection with redemption). Although at first glance this seems to be a convincing blow to the idea of substitutionary atonement, on second glance this distinction between prepositions does not fit the logical or contextual usage.

If one acts of behalf of another, the one representing the other is acting in a substitutionary role. If I have been given the power of attorney over my spouseís assets, when I act in a legal capacity for her, my presence is a substitute for her presence, rendering her presence needless. This idea of "substitution" is found in several passages which use the preposition hyper. In I Timothy 2:6 Christ is pictured as giving Himself as a ransom on our behalf. The reason for this was because we could not have been freed by ourselves. He had to act on our behalf, so that what He did could be considered to have been done by us. The only way this could be accomplished is if Christ was acting in our place. Whereas we could not redeem ourselves, He could, and did so by acting in our stead.

George Ladd has offered some tremendous insight in opposition to the idea that Christ only acted on our behalf, rather than in our stead. He said:

IfÖChrist voluntarily came under the blight of sin, entered into its deepest gloom, and shared with humanity its awful weight and penalty, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that he not only died for me, but that he died in my stead, since because of his death, I shall not die, but shall live eternally with him. By suffering death, the penalty of sin, he delivers me from that very experience. In submitting to the judgment of God upon sin, he has delivered me from the same judgment. The rationale of this is difficult to understand unless Christ suffered the penalty and judgment of God in the stead of the sinner by virtue of which the sinner will never experience that awful penalty.25

The fact that Paul said that because Christ died, "therefore all have died" points to an objective reality that occurred in Jesus Christ at Calvary, which had effects on everyone who was not present there (II Corinthians 5:14). This is not a mere identification with Christ at His death, but is an accomplished reality performed by one man, and considered to have taken place in all men. Christís death accomplished my death. This can only be understood in the context of substitution. What should have happened to me will never have to happen to me, because it happened to Christ; and when it happened to Christ, it happened to me.

Although it was not as common to use hyper to denote substitution in Classical Greek, it was used sometimes (Plato, Republic 590a; Xenophon, Anabasis 7.4.9-10).26 The LXX uses the preposition for substitution in Deuteronomy 24:16, Isaiah 43:3-4, and in the apocraphyl book of Judith 8:12. The use of hyper in Hellenistic Greek (ostraca and papyri) is often used with the force of anti.27 It is used in the papyri of one who writes a letter in someone elseís stead. Although this could be interpreted as "in behalf of," the point is clear that one person is acting in the stead of another, so that the other no longer needs to perform the same action. Instead of Mr. A writing the letter, Mr. B wrote the letter for Mr. A. This is a clear example of substitution.

Daniel Wallace proposes that hyper and anti had little overlap in semantic domain in Attic Greek, but that this changed in the Koine period. Hyper began to be used much more frequently and its semantic domains were broadened to that it began to approach closer to the meaning of anti, although it never phased out the use of anti for the idea of substitution.28

Context dictates the force of any preposition. Words have no inherent meaning. Meaning is derived from usage. The contexts of John 11:50, II Corinthians 5:15, and Galatians 3:13 give a clear indication that hyper can carry the force of substitution. A.T. Robertson went so far as to say that in these verses "hyper has the resultant notion of Ďinsteadí and only violence to the context can get rid of it."29 In the first reference, Caiaphas said that it was better that one man should die hyper the people, that the whole nation would not perish. Jesus was to die instead of the whole nation, not on behalf of the nation. This was an exchange of one for the many. The other two references, though not as clear as John, do sustain the same understanding. Other passages also heavily lend themselves to this understanding, but are less conclusive (Romans 5:6-8; 8:32; Galatians 2:20; Hebrews 2:9). The use of hyper for substitution is even found in non-soteriological verses such as Romans 9:3 and Philemon 13.

To haggle over whether hyper can mean "instead of" is almost meaningless, because the logical necessity of acting on behalf of someone is that the original individual who was supposed to act, no longer needs to do so because of the actions of another. This is the meaning of substitution.

Objections to the Idea of Propitiation

Some find the idea that Godís wrath needed to be appeased before He could save man an abhorrent and unbiblical doctrine. They say that this makes God the Father into a wrathful God who desires judgment, and the Son into the one changing Godís attitude toward man from wrath to love.

As has already been stated previously, the Father is not the angry God in heaven, and the Son the meek and lowly God-man on earth who averts God the Fatherís anger from humanity. Rather it was the love of God the Father that brought about the reconciliation of mankind to Him through the death of Jesus Christ. God had always desired to be merciful to man and to redeem him, but this merciful side of God could not override His holy wrath against sin. Likewise Godís wrath could not override His desire to show mercy. Both needed to be satisfied. Godís justice and mercy were satisfied as they met in the person of Christ. Through His death Godís mercy and justice could both be met, thus allowing the Father to deal with the sin problem, and acquit the believer from all guilt.

The Bible is abundantly clear that God hates sin, and that the sins of men anger Godís holiness. Without a removal of the sin problem, God could not deal mercifully with man. Godís nature is opposed to sin, and thus God is opposed to those who commit sin. His wrath against sin is only expected. Without something to avert this wrath toward man who committed sin, we could only expect punishment. Truly Godís wrath did need to be appeased, and Godís attitude toward man and his sin had to be changed for reconciliation to take place. Although the Scripture nowhere explicitly states this in such terminology, it is nevertheless safe to say from the general tenor of Scripture that Christ experienced the wrath of God in our place,30 thus appeasing Godís holy anger against us, allowing Him to deal mercifully with us.

Relevance to Life and Ministry

How exactly does the penal-substitutionary atonement relate to our personal lives and ministries? Is it irrelevant to the modern reader of Scripture? I do not believe so. It is relevant to us in many areas.

First of all this understanding of the atonement allows us to see the multi-facedness of God. He is not one-sided. Many times oneís conception of God is limited to one attribute or characteristic. Either God is viewed as the exacting judge in heaven who is just waiting to drop the hammer on anyone who drops the ball, or else God is viewed as a big grandfather in the sky who lets us get away with murder. God is not just a God of justice, and neither is He just a God of mercy. We know that God is both a God of justice and mercy. We need not view Him only as a policeman, or only as a friend. We need to both love God because of His mercy and love, and fear God because of His hatred of sin.

This understanding of the atonement also makes it clear to us that we cannot do anything for our salvation. Having been sinners by nature, all of us were destined to hell. There was nothing we could do to avoid this, or change our course of destiny. Our just sentence was death because of our sins. But God, who is rich in mercy, while we were without strength Christ died for us (Romans 5:6). It was God who made the move to save our souls. We did not first love Him, but He first loved us and gave Himself for us (Titus 2:14; I John 4:10, 19). Salvation began with, and will be finished by Christ. He accomplished our reconciliation to God. All we are left to do is receive the reconciliation by faith (II Corinthians 5:20).

If Christ did all that is necessary for our salvation, making an atonement for our sins in our stead, we can be assured that we will be saved when we continue to place our faith in Christ's work on our behalf. We can know that we have security in our relationship with Christ. It is not based on our own merits, but on His merits. Jesus is both the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). He can act in this capacity because He did all that was necessary to secure salvation for all those who will believe. What we must do is trust in what He has done for us, and await the redemption of our bodies.

On a more subjective level, the atonement should lead us to a greater hatred of sin. The Scripture declares that the beginning of wisdom is to hate evil (Proverbs 8:13). Godís hatred of evil and sin led him to make a tremendous sacrifice, i.e. the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. Sin is serious. God does not excuse sin. When we sin we sin against God Himself. It is God that we are hurting, and not just ourselves. Godís love for us in spite of our sin may be beyond our areas of knowledge (Ephesians 3:19), but this love was costly. It cost Jesus His life. The fact that God needed to come to earth as a human being, and suffer and die for us, so that we could be saved, should wake us up to the seriousness of sin. The next time we are tempted to sin we should look to Calvary and see the price with which we were redeemed, and in seeing both Godís hatred for sin and love for us, turn away from sin to righteousness.

For ministry, understanding the nature of the atonement is extremely important. Paul said that God "has reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation" (II Corinthians 5:18). As ministers, our specific ministry is that of reconciling man to God. If we do not understand the nature of the atonement/reconciliation, we cannot effectively preach the message of reconciliation to an estranged world. A lack of understanding of the atonement will result in a ministry which is out of focus. The atonement defines for us our mission, i.e. the reconciling of lost souls to their heavenly Father.

Finally, the atonement is a motivation for us to live for God, as the Socinian Theory states. Paul said that the love of Christ compels us to no longer live for ourselves, but to live for Jesus Christ, the one who died for us and rose again (II Corinthians 5:14-15). When we look at Christís death, it compels us to live our lives in total obedience to God as did Jesus. Just as Jesus was so committed to the fulfilling the will of God, and pleasing God, that He went so far as to willingly give His life as a ransom for many, we also will experience this same passion when we look to Christ.

Works Cited

Campbell, J. McLeod. The Nature of the Atonement. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, 1996.

Culpepper, Robert H. Interpreting the Atonement. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.

Denney, J. The Death of Christ. N.p.: n.p., 1950.

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984.

Erickson, Millard J. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985.

Farrar, F.W. "The Atonement in Modern Religious Thought." No other information available.

Harris, R. Laird, Gleason L. Archer Jr., Bruce K. Waltke. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Found on electronic media, BibleWorks 4.0.

Ladd, George Eldon. A Theology of the New Testament. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1993.

Lewis, Gordon L. and Bruce A. Demarest. Integrative Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996.

Louw, J. P., E. A. Nida. Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains. 2nd edition. United Bible Society: New York, 1988.

McGrath, Alister E., Studies in Doctrine, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987.

Morris, Leon. The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. William B. Eerdman Publishing: Grand Rapids, reprinted 1988.

Robertson, A.T. A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research. 2nd ed. New York: George H. Doran, 1915.

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1996.


1. Gordon L. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology (Grand Rapid: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 375. <back>
2. Anselm borrowed this idea from Augustine of Hippo. <back>
3. Lewis and Demarest, 375. <back>
4. Millard J. Erickson, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), 791. <back>
5. Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), 102. <back>
6. Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (William B. Eerdman Publishing: Grand Rapids, reprinted 1988), 166. <back>
7. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, as found on BibleWorks, electronic media, 1998. <back>
8. J. P. Louw and E. A. Nida, Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd edition (United Bible Society: New York, 1988), as found on Bible Works, electronic media, 1998. <back>
9. Morris, 174. <back>
10. Erickson, 803. <back>
11. Ibid. <back>
12. J. McLeod Campbell, The Nature of the Atonement (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: Grand Rapids, 1996), 109. <back>
13. TWOT. <back>
14. Ibid. <back>
15. Lewis and Demarest, 401. <back>
16. W.C. Robinson, "Wrath," found in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1196. <back>
17. Morris, 185. <back>
18. Robert H. Culpepper, Interpreting the Atonement (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 406. <back>
19. Dr. Campbell, quoted in F.W. Farrar, "The Atonement in Modern Religious Thought," no other information available. <back>
20. J. Denney, The Death of Christ (n.p.: n.p., 1950), 85-86 as found in George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1993), 494. <back>
21. Ladd, 495. <back>
22. Erickson, 820. <back>
23. Lewis and Demarest, 413. <back>
24. Alister E. McGrath, Studies in Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), 284. <back>
25. Ladd, 468. <back>
26. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1996), 383. <back>
27. A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 2nd ed. (New York: George H. Doran, 1915), 631 referenced in Erickson, 814. <back>
28. Wallace, 387. <back>
29. Robertson, 631, in Erickson, 814. <back>
30. Ladd, 473. <back>

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