MODELSOF THE ATONEMENT
Theacts and behaviors of Christians are channeled towards reconcilingthem with the Almighty. It is through salvation that humanity canescape the eternal suffering awaiting the sinners. All human beingshave sinned. However, their sins can be forgiven through salvationonly. Christians believe that humanity can go to heaven only throughthe deliverance from sin. Various theories of atonement holddifferent positions about salvation. This paper purposes to discussfour theories of atonement.
TheChristus Victor Model
Accordingto this theory, the first human beings, Adam and Eve, betrayedhumanity to the Devil when they disobeyed God. Justice demanded thatGod should pay the Devil a price to achieve freedom for human beings.God supposedly tricked the Devil to accept the death of Christ as thepayment. The Devil did not realize that Jesus could not staypermanently in the bonds of death. This theory concluded that oncethe Devil accepted the death of Jesus death as a price, justice wasattained and humanity became free from bondage1.In C.S Lewis` book, Lion,the Witch, and the Wardrobe,fictional characters illustrate this model. Aslan, the lion, giveshis life for a boy. He does so as the witch demanded a life for alife. After being slain by the witch, Aslan unexpectedly rises fromthe dead2.Gregory of Nyssa compared the death of Jesus to a fish duped intobiting a hook and eventually perishing.
Theterm `Christus Victor` means `Christ the victor` in the Latinlanguage. This model originated from the writings of the earlyhistorical fathers of the church. The first person to enunciate thismodel was Origen (185 – AD 254), an Alexandrian theologian. Later on,other theologians such as Gregory of Nyssa also agreed with thismodel. Another notable proponent was Gustaf Aulen, who wrote a booktitled `ChristusVictor.`Gustaf argued that this model originated from the early fathers ofthe church and was closer to the truth than Anselm`s satisfactiontheory, which came up in the eleventh century3.
TheBible, in Mark 10:45 and Matthew 20:28, mentions that Jesus paid theprice with His life. The Devil held humanity captive, as stated in1stJohn 5:19. Passages that speak of the victory of Jesus over the Devilinclude Colossians 2:15, Hebrews 2:14 and John 3:8. Origen focused on1stCorinthians to support his view. This verse states that “You havebeen bought with a price.”4
Themedieval theologian Anselm of Canterbury formulated this model. Helived between the year 1033 and 1039. Anselm`s theory relied on thefeudal regime of his time. In this system, the serfs farmed the landfor their lord, who was a knight that protected the property fromattack5.The lord, in turn, had to respect the Sovereign. Based on hisbackground, Anselm pictured God as the feudal lord of the world andhumanity owes Him a debt of honor. The failure to honor God was a sinby humanity, which God could not overlook. However, it was GodHimself who has the ability to pay the debt. God became the man tosatisfy this debt of honor6.The death of Jesus brought an abundance of merit, also calledsupererogation, available to all who believe.
Anselmwrote a book titled CurDeus Homo,which means `Why the God Man` in Latin. The Supreme Being could onlyaccept sacrifice from his only son, Jesus Christ. However, if thiscontentment was going to be available for humanity, it would have tocome from a human being. Anselm viewed sin as defrauding God of thehonor that he deserves.
Thedeath of Jesus was the ultimate act of obedience and gave God greathonor it was more honor than Jesus was obliged to give. Therefore,Jesus` surplus paid for our deficit7.
Beginningwith Genesis 3, Anselm accepts the existence of God and the fall ofman. He mentions several texts to argue the case that sin madehumanity a debtor to God. These include Colossians 2:14, John 8:34and Matthew 6:12. He also states that the God-man (Jesus) had to dievoluntarily, citing Isaiah 53:7 and John 10:18. He also used Psalm 51to demonstrate the sinful nature of man and Deuteronomy 32:35 to showthat God is superior to man. He uses 1stCorinthians 2:8 to show that the death of the `God-man` satisfied alllegal debt for sin8.
Itis also called the Moral Exemplar or the Moral Influence theory.Jesus Christ came as a moral exemplar to guide humanity to a betterlife. The Hebrew Scriptures record God`s various attempts to getpeople on the right track, such as through personal interaction, theLaw, and the prophets. When all these apparently failed, God sentJesus as a perfect example of an upright life9.The teachings and miracles form an essential part of his message. Hisdeath as a martyr called for attention to his life and message. Italso demonstrated the highest moral virtue of self-sacrifice.
PeterAbelard, who lived between 1079 and 1142, formulated this theory. Itwas partially in reaction against Anselm`s satisfaction theory. The16thcentury Socinians upheld Peter`s view. Other notable proponents ofthis theory are Friedrich Schleiermacher and Horace Bushnell10.
TheBible verses that show Jesus calling upon his listeners to follow hisexample and live upright lives are the ones that proponents of thistheory focused on11.These include Matthew 16:24, Matthew 20:25-28, John 13:13-16, 1stCorinthians 11:1, Ephesians 5:1-2, 1stJohn 3:15-16, 1stJohn 2:6, 1stPeter 2:20-22, and Colossians 3:13.
ThePenal Substitution Model
Thistheory suggests that Jesus suffered and died in our place. He tookthe punishment for sin that mankind deserved. According to thistheory, God was unwilling to forgive us outright. God was okay withthe punishment Christ endured as a substitute for the consequences ofsins of humanity. Therefore, Jesus was an innocent being who waspunished for the sins He did not commit. Previously, God punishedhumanity by sending a great flood. When they deserved punishmentagain, Jesus suffered on their behalf, and God accepted it12.
Godlegally put all the guilt of sins of humanity to Jesus who bore thepunishment that human beings deserved. This fulfilled both therighteousness and wrath of God so that He could forgive peoplewithout demean his holiness13.Jesus Christ died in man`s place and thus taking his sins away fromhim. This sets those who believe free from the penal demands of thelaw14.
TheReformers formulated it in the 16th century. It came up as anextension of Anselm`s satisfaction theory. They agreed with thesatisfaction theory where it highlights the satisfaction work ofJesus and the need for it. However, they found the satisfactiontheory inadequate because it referred to God`s honor instead of hisjustice and holiness. They also disliked the portrayal of the work ofJesus as a sort of commercial transaction rather than a penalsubstitution15.
SeveralBible verses are quoted to support this theory, such as Isaiah 53:6,Isaiah 53:12, Romans 3:25, 2ndCorinthians 5:21, Galatians 3:13, and Hebrews 10:1-4. These versessuggest that God laid all sins of humanity on Jesus, who had nevercommitted sin16.
Anselm,Joseph M Colleran, and Anselm. WhyGod Became Man.1st ed., n.d.
Brazier,Paul, and Judith Wolfe. C.S.Lewis–on the Christ of a Religious Economy.2013.
Crell,Kate Eisenbise. CooperativeSalvation: A Brethren View of Atonement.2014.
English,John Thomas. AnEdwardean Argument For Penal Substitution.1st ed., 2011.
1 Crell, Kate Eisenbise. Cooperative Salvation: A Brethren View of Atonement. 2014, 19.
2 Brazier, Paul, and Judith Wolfe. C.S. Lewis–on the Christ of a Religious Economy. 2013, 239.
3 Crell, Kate Eisenbise. Cooperative Salvation: A Brethren View of Atonement. 2014, 29.
5 Anselm, Joseph M Colleran and Anselm, Why God Became Man, 1st ed., n.d, 41.
6 Ibid., 45.
7 Ibid., 87.
8 Ibid., 118.
9 Crell, Kate Eisenbise. Cooperative Salvation: A Brethren View of Atonement. 2014, 41.
10 Ibid., 206.
11 Ibid., 89.
12 John Thomas English, An Edwardean Argument For Penal Substitution, 1st ed., 2011, 108.
13 Ibid., 121.
14 Ibid., 147.
15 Ibid., 165.
16 Ibid., 187.