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- Atonement Theories: Christus Victor

Why did Jesus die on the cross? What was the purpose of his incarnation to earth, obedient life, death and resurrection? There are 7 main atonement theories. These 7 theories will be briefly explained, and categorized into 2 camps to simplify the issue. There are elements of truth in each theory. But this is an important issue as we will see there are implications based on what we conclude. But first let's look at two theories, one of which is sound toward both models, the other is to be rejected.

The Moral Influence Theory - This theory is less about the atonement, and more about the life of Jesus and the positive example that he set for all mankind. This theory is rather uncontroversial and really can be included with any atonement theory. Indeed, Jesus's life had a positive moral impact on mankind and an excellent example to follow. This was most definitely one aspect of the purpose of his incarnation.

The Scapegoat Theory - This theory is a rather modern and philosophical theory not based in scripture. It is an alternative to the other theories of atonement and stands alone. It is to be rejected outright as pagan and worldly logic. It essentially says that all societies want what others have and this causes all kinds of violence and tension in the world. An innocent victim, called the scapegoat is killed to to release this tension. Jesus is seen as the ultimate scapegoat for society, and not as a sacrifice.

The Satisfaction Model

The Satisfaction Theory - This theory was developed in the 12th century by Anselm. It states that sin is a debt to God. So mankind is indebted to God because of God's justice and requirement to penalize sin. Jesus's death is seen as a sacrifice to satisfy the Father so that his wrath does not come upon us.

The Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory - This theory is very similar to The Satisfaction Theory. It was a slight revision from the time of the Reformation. The key difference is that the penal substitutionary atonement(PSA) theory says that Jesus died as a substitute for us to satisfy God's wrath. So the difference is really semantics. Instead of God simply needing satisfaction of any kind, God allowed Jesus to take the wrath due to us specifically in our place as a substitute. This is the most common and popular view in the church today.

The Governmental Theory - This theory is another slight revision from the PSA theory. The key difference is the extent to which Christ suffered. Instead of suffering our specific due punishment, he simply suffered a punishment to appease God's wrath.

As you can see these 3 theories are all essentially the same and will from this point on be referred to as The Satisfaction Model to represent all 3 together. Their differences aren't terribly important for the distinctions that will be made on down this page. But they all affirm that God is a God of justice and sin must be satisfied by his wrath. Jesus died for our sins as a substitute sacrifice. We will soon dissect this model and see that there is truth mixed with error. But as always we must be careful not to “throw out the baby with the bath water.” We will also see the implications of the false aspects of this view and how it supports false doctrines. But first, let's look at the alternative model.

Christus Victor Model

The Christus Victor Theory - This theory says that Christ defeated death, sin, Satan, and all the evil principalities by his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection. It comes from a world view that says the earth is a battle ground for a cosmic war that has been going on since the beginning. Jesus declared victory by reconciling the whole world to himself.

The Ransom Theory - This theory is an important aspect of the Christus Victor model. It states that Jesus died to pay a ransom payment in order to redeem mankind. This payment could be seen as either being paid to Satan, or to simply death, but not to the Father. 

What Is The Correct View?

There are multiple aspects of the atonement which is why it is difficult for one single view to encapsulate all aspects of what the atonement accomplished. As stated above, the scapegoat theory should be rejected. The moral influence theory is a small aspect of the overall atonement truth. The satisfaction model contributes aspects of truth in the atonement. But some of the 
Both models affirm that Jesus paid a ransom. But a ransom paid to whom? Both affirm that the Father was satisfied. But satisfied in what sense? What is also very much different, is the world view from which the 2 models come from. It is a huge paradigm shift from one understanding to the other regarding the character of the Father and how one sees the world in which we live. It is also important to understand that the Christus Victor model is the early christian understanding of the atonement and the primary and orthodox view. The Sa

To Whom Was The Ransom Paid?

Was Christ’s Sacrifice Substitutionary?

Did God’s Anger Need To Be Satisfied?

The Character of the Father - The satisfaction model sees God as a wrathful and angry God. They say his justice and hatred of sin, or holiness are his primary attributes. In this model the Father is actually unable to forgive sin. Sin must be satisfied by his wrath, therefore forgiveness is not something he is able to do. The Father is seen as someone who is so displeased and disgusted with mankind, that all mankind is deserving of eternal conscious torment in a fiery hell. Jesus satisfies the wrath of this angry God and saves us from his wrath. On the flip side, the Christus Victor model shows the Father as a loving God that seeks to save mankind from the oppressive rule of dark forces on earth. 


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

who gave himself as a ransom for all people. 1 Tim. 2:6

who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. Titus 2:14

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. Eph. 1:7

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Eph. 6:12

What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. Gal. 4:1-8

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Heb. 2:14-18

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Rom. 3:25-26

Romans 6
Heb. 9

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

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.” Mark 10:45 (Also Matt. 20:28)

PSA focuses on the guilt of mankind. CV focuses on the victimhood of mankind.
CV can’t explain how sin, death, or Satan is conquered at the cross.
Weren’t animal sacrifices substitutionary?

Redemption is a present and future reality.

Substitution is good. Penal is fine. But only penal is problematic.

Kinsman Redeemer
Eternal high priest
Year of Jubilee - everything belongs and is returned to God

Law of sin vs law of God
Slave to sin vs slave to righteousness
Satan vs God
Sin to death vs obedience to righteousness

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:16-23

Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. Rom. 7:25; read whole chapter

Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Rom. 8:2; read through vs17

So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. Gal. 4:3-8; read whole chapter

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. Eph. 2:1-2

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. John 8:34

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44

The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. 1 John 3:8-12

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, 2 Cor. 4:4 (Satan is called the “god of this age.” That sounds like a position of great power. Only Jesus and the Father have a higher position of authority.)

We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.
1 John 5:19 (Let’s not pretend Satan has no power. This verse says the whole world is under his control and power.)

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 1 Peter 5:8-9 (The whole world is under attack by Satan. Let’s not downplay his power.)

Serpent seed
Heb. 2:14

Ransom Theory Objections
-God can not be limited, subjected, or obligated by anyone or anything.
I disagree as God is bound by his own law that was constructed according to his unchanging nature. Satan tried to use this against God. Satan could accuse God of breaking his own law if God we’re to just overpower him and not heed it’s limitations. This way God defeats Satan without compromising his holiness.

-It makes Satan a benefactor in the atonement.
If Satan was to release the slaves of their debt, it follows that he would need to be compensated. However this compensation was short lived as death was not able to hold Jesus in the grave.

-It credits Satan too high a role and too much power.
It’s important not to overstate or understate the power of Satan. He is over course inferior in power to Jesus or the Father. However it can be demonstrated for him to hold the next highest position of power. And this is why it takes the power of God to destroy the kingdom of Satan. 

-The Bible doesn’t specifically state anything was paid to Satan.
The Bible also neither specifies that the ransom was paid to the Father. So we are left to conclude based on the information we are given. It doesn’t necessitate a literal transaction. But Satan is the slave master of sinners, so it follows that the metaphorical payment would be made to him to set free his slaves.

-Any debt owed, is owed to God.
This is not true, even Jesus says to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and render to God what is God’s. A slave owes a debt to his master and we know that God is not the master of sinners. 

-It makes God out to be a deceiver by deceiving Satan.
You’d have to show the law that God has violated. God is only bound by his law and the unchanging nature by which said law was established. And deception is an assumption. Perhaps Satan denied the power God had to raise Jesus from the dead. That would be more self deception on Satan’s part. We are only left to speculate certain fine details of the atonement.

-It states that Satan had a legal right over mankind that God was bound by.
Response: Satan indeed enslaved the world in sin which leads to death without hope. God had given man dominion over the earth, but man lost its position by being enslaved to Satan by debt of sin. So Satan takes possession of the earth and mankind. The cross redeemed mankind. The resurrection of Christ and his ascension to the right hand of God gives him all authority in heaven and on earth. This however did not annihilate Satan’s kingdom, but it did deliver it a crushing blow. In the future all enemies will be placed in submission to Jesus and Satan’s kingdom will be destroyed completely.