What are the theories of the atonement?

What are the theories of the atonement? from Compelling Truth

Atonement literally means “at one-ment” with God. It is the way in which the guilt-punishment chain produced by the violation of God’s will is broken, as well as the resulting state of reconciliation that occurs with God because of Christ’s work on the cross. Concerning this, Paul says: “More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:11).

Historically, a number of theories have been offered as to what the atonement and Christ’s finished work actually meant and/or achieved. The most common have been the following:

• Recapitulation – Christ went through all the stages of human life, resisted all temptations, died and arose a victor over death and the devil, making all benefits of His victory available to us.
• Ransom – Christ’s death was paid to Satan to purchase human beings who were captive in sin, and who are then set free.
• Moral example – Christ’s death provided an example of faith and obedience that inspires others to be obedient to God.
• Moral influence – Christ’s death was not a moral example to humanity, but a demonstration of God’s great love for people. Christ’s death inspires human beings to begin to live rightly.
• Government – stresses the law of God and says God has the right to punish sin but it is not mandatory that He do so since love is His main attribute.
• Mystical – God became man so that man may become God. God and man become mystically united in the Person of Christ.
• Optional-satisfaction – allows for but does not require satisfaction of God’s justice for the sinner. God could have freed man in another way for nothing is impossible with God.
• Necessary-satisfaction – it was necessary for God’s offended justice and honor to be satisfied by a penalty that only Christ could pay.
• Penal Substitution – builds on the necessary-satisfaction theory, but adds that because God’s absolute justice has been violated, a substitution for sins had to be made by the sinless Son of God.

The proposal that appears to best match what Scripture portrays is the penal substitution theory. The biblical evidence supporting this position can be found in numerous places.

First, is the idea of the substitute sacrifice displayed in the account of Abraham, Isaac, and the ram (a male lamb – signifying Jesus, the Lamb of God; cf. John 1:29) found in Genesis 22:9-13.

Next, is the substitute Passover lamb described in the account of Israel’s exodus (Exodus 12:1-13). Following on its heels is the description of the substitute sin offering described in Leviticus 4:1-7.

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