Quotations showing different beliefs about the theories of the
"There have been several theories of the Atonement
developed; some by God fearing upright men and others by servants of Satan
himself." William W. Sasser 1
All 6 atonement theories "...have elements of truth in them
but some are inadequate to stand alone." Ralph Wilson
"All of the historically important
theories of the Atonement have serious problems. In particular, they either fail
to explain why God sacrificed his son for the salvation of sinners or else make
the sacrifice seem arbitrary." Michael Martin 3
In a religious sense, atonement means "at-one-ment."
This is the state of being "at
one" -- or reconciled -- with God. 4
Christianity has historically taught that:
A gulf was formed between God and humans
because of the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden
This sin was subsequently imputed to all of their
descendents worldwide down to the present generation, or
Through their sin, the universe permanently changed and
became a place of death, destruction, sin and the alienation of humans
Yeshua's life, and particularly his death on the cross,
allowed some humans to bridge the gulf and be reconciled with God.
Early Christian theologians did not delve deeply into "how" the
atonement came to be. Philip Schaff writes: "...the
primitive church teachers lived more in the thankful enjoyment of redemption
than in logical reflection upon it. We perceive in their exhibitions of this
blessed mystery the language rather of enthusiastic feeling than of careful
definition and acute analysis." 5
The Epistles of Paul and other writings
in the Christian Scriptures do not explain
exactly how the atonement actually works. Most of the theologians from Origen (185-254
CE) until the present time have believed that the atonement is
related in some way to the
sacrificial and/or voluntary torture-death of Jesus. They selected certain passages in the Scriptures that
agreed with their beliefs, and
ignored others. In this way, they arrived at very different, conflicting, yet
theories. In recent decades, some theologians have rejected atonement theories based on
Yeshua's death. They argue in
favor of a non-violent explanation for the atonement. For them, atonement is
based on Yeshua's life, not his death.
All of these theories are biblically based.
All conflict with each other. There is little hope that a consensus will be
reached in the foreseeable future on which theory is the "correct" one.
There is little standardization on terminology
for the various theories. We have used what we believe to be the most common name(s)
for each theory.
Various writers state that there are 4, 5, 6, 10, and probably
more theories of the atonement. They often regard all but one as erroneous, and
perhaps even inspired by Satan. Unfortunately, they don't agree on which is the
true theory, or even if a true theory exists.
Broadly speaking, the current
accepted theories are: