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Non-violent theories:

Beliefs based on the life of Jesus rather than his death

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Non-violent theories:


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Criticisms which have been made of the non-violent theories:

Most of the criticisms of the regular Satisfaction Theory apply here as well, with minimal modification:

bullet The theory assumes that because God is infinite, even a single, minor human sin incurs an infinite debt to God. It can only be cancelled by an infinite satisfaction through the death of Yeshua, the sinless god-man. But, using the same logic, a single, minor positive act by a human would bring about an infinite amount of good. But that is irrational, because only God can bring about an infinite good. Thus, one might conclude that atonement does not require infinite satisfaction such as could only be achieved by Yeshua's death.
bullet "Justice surely demands that at the very least the guilty party -- [i.e. humanity] -- provide as much of the satisfaction as he or she can." 3 But in the Satisfaction and Penal theories, humans contribute nothing and Yeshua everything. The torture-death of Yeshua and the zero contribution of humanity seems unjust and unfair in comparison.
bullet The belief that God's need for justice is so strong that he would demand as satisfaction the death of an innocent person "assumes a view of God's moral nature that many modern readers would reject." 3 Being omnipotent, God could find some other way that atonement could be attained.
bullet One of Jesus' main messages was that we must love our enemies, forgive those who injure us, and overcome evil with good. These teachings appear to be totally opposite to God's demand for blood and a torture death of an innocent man. Fr. John Mabry views the Penal Theory as " oppressive theology, and inauthentic in light of Jesus' teaching." He asks: "how can a God who in Jesus told us that we were never to exact vengeance, that we were to forgive each other perpetually without retribution, demand of us behavior that God 'himself' is unwilling or unable to perform?...why can God not simply forgive as we are instructed to do, rather than mandating that some 'innocent and spotless victim' bear the brunt of 'his' reservoir of wrath? The ability of humans to do this when God will not or cannot logically casts humanity as God's moral superior. This is of course absurd!" 6
bullet Presumably, the Penal Theory would require that any new human sins committed after Yeshua's execution would also have to be punished. They would necessitate the ritual sacrifice of a second God-Man. Thus, multiple incarnations and executions would be required over the millennia of human history since the first century CE. An indefinite number of human sacrifices might eventually be required.
bullet It seems logical that if the death of Yeshua satisfied God's need for justice, and if humans made no contribution to the process, then salvation and atonement should be granted to everyone -- to Christian believers and unbelievers alike. It is unclear why  only those individuals who trust Yeshua as Lord and Savior will attains salvation, atonement, and Heaven. To send those who have not trusted Yeshua to Hell for eternal punishment is to penalize a person for committing a thought crime -- a despicable act in today's world.

In addition, one might argue that the essence of the Penal Theory is that violence, suffering, and punishment of one or more innocent people is justified, if it produces beneficial results for other people. Many find this concept offensive and profoundly immoral. They regard punishment of the innocent for the sake of others to be inherently evil. It is this concept that partly justified the Burning Times (the extermination of Witches during the Middle Ages and Renaissance), the Armenian genocide, the Nazi Holocaust, the genocide in Bosnia Herzegovina by Serbian Orthodox Christians, and other recent genocides religious oppression, and mass crimes against humanity.

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  1. Kevin Davidson, "The Atonement," at:
  2. Keith Johnson "Major views of the Atonement," at:
  3. Michael Martin, "The Case Against Christianity," Temple University Press, (1991), Page 257 to 258. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store.
  4. Allan McNabb, "Calvinism," (2000), at: You may need software to read these files. It can be obtained free from:
  5. "The Book of Confessions," Presbyterian Church (USA). Cited in Ref. 2.
  6. John Mabry, "How the doctrine of vicarious atonement...," at:

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Copyright 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2005-APR-12
Latest update: 2005-APR-12.
Author: B.A. Robinson

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