God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. Jesus offered once and for all the one perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. No other satisfaction is necessary; none other can atone. Salvation is received as a gift on the condition of genuine faith.



JustificationTo justify in Scripture is an act of God, by which, according to His grace and for Christ’s sake, He pardons all of our sins and accepts us as righteous.  The Bible tells us that God accepts the one who confesses himself to be guilty, and who repents and believes in Jesus Christ.  Mark 1:14, 15; 16:16; Rom. 1:16,17; 4:3-7; 5:1; Gal. 2:16, 17.  This can only be found through the work of Christ, and not the law. Every attempt in sinners to justify themselves by the law is vain. Psa. 140:3, 4; 143:2; Rom. 3: 20, 28; 7: 5-24.  

Regeneration Is the change of nature that is wrought within the believer simultaneously  with the work of justification. Matt. 19:28; Tit. 3:5. It is commonly called the NEW BIRTH, John 3:3-8.

It is the initial stage of sanctification in which the Believers nature is born again and re-united with God. It is passing out of death into life, Eph 2:1, 4, 5; 1 John 3:14; a new creation, 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; a new heart and a new spirit, Ezek. 11:19; 18:31; 36:26.

Regeneration is necessary since in man’s fallen state he is unfit to inherit the Kingdom of God, 1 Cor. 15:50; Gal. 5:19-21.  Also God is holy and heaven is a holy place, and sinful man must be changed in order to fellowship with God and enjoy heaven.  

AdoptionAn act of God by which we are accepted into the family of God as His own children.  Rom. 8:15, 23; 9:4; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5.

Adoption, Regeneration, and Justification All happen simultaneously when a Believer passes from death into life. Justification is necessary to enable the reconciliation between God and Man.  When this takes place, all our former sins are forgiven.  But God has to go further to be able to accept us, He must reform our corrupt nature, this of course is the function of regeneration.  Adoption, that is, being born into and accepted into God’s family occurs in the same moment that regeneration and justification take place.   


Atonement means to make as one, to satisfy, to take away the barrier that separates. Concerning Christ, it stands for the provision that he acquired through His sufferings upon the cross on our behalf.  This provision makes possible the uniting of two divided parties, God and man. 

Many use the term REDEMPTION as a synonym for ATONEMENT. To redeem is to “buy back”, or to pay a ransom.  On this account Jesus is called the Redeemer. Isa. 59:20; 60:16; Rom. 3:24-26; Gal. 3:13; Eph. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:18, 19. 


Atonement is only through the death and resurrection of Christ.

Luke 22:19; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Romans 5:6-11; 2 Cor. 5:18, 19; 1 Pet. 3:18; Gal. 1:4; Heb. 10:12; 1 Jn. 2:1-2.

We know the following: 1. Christ died for our sins. 2. It was necessary. 3. This is based in God’s love. 4. The death of Christ was not an accident. 

The exact way in which this atonement works in the mind of God is a partial mystery to us.   




God has revealed sufficient and accurate facts for our understanding.  There is enough information about the atonement in the Bible to know what God deems as essential for our salvation, but we do not have full knowledge.  Now this is not to say that we cannot have accurate knowledge.  I will hopefully demonstrate the difficulty that we face. 


There is no Theory in existence that satisfactorily answers every verse about the atonement.

I believe that God has used several models to explain His saving work to mankind. What is essential is that we find salvation and reconciliation through the merits of Christ. It is extremely important is that we use accurate and Biblical models to shape our thinking.  It is essential that you understand that your view of how the atonement works, is the foundation block of everything that you understand about the Bible!  

Our conclusions about the Atonement will give us theological biases that lead us to understand the Scriptures only in a way that our Atonement view will allow.  If we are wrong here, we will  be wrong in how we understand everything in Scripture!


 Three Models Of Understanding



Anthropomorphic This is a great model to use to appeal to the heart. It stresses the personal relationship with God.  It is limited in answering the question of “how” the death of Christ satisfies the account against us. These human images help us to relate to the fact that Jesus atoned for our sins, but rarely gives us the details of "how" Jesus atoned for our sins. Because of the previous reasons, the anthropomorphic image of the atonement should not be used as our primary base for doctrine, but as an augmentation to enhance our doctrinally based view of God’s love towards us. 

Sacrificial This is an excellent model that has the support of the entire Old Testament. The fact that God has spent so much time emphasizing this form of atonement renders it to be very appealing. In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews makes good use of this perspective. The fact that God will stand as our "Judge" for those sins that were un-atoned for, will work with the idea of sacrifice, but its judicial implications seem to be foreign to the Old Testament. Because the New testament reached beyond Jews to the Gentiles, it would make sense that an explanation would be made in terms that would not deny sacrifice, but would fit into the vocabulary and knowledge of those who did not know the concepts of Judaism. The Sacrificial theory of the atonement seems to fit better into the Jewish mind than that of the Greek mind. Because God has revealed to us the nature of sacrifice throughout  the Old Testament in such precise detail, we can gain an understanding of  how it foreshadows and reveals what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. With the entire Old Testament for its support, this could, and should be one’s primary means of understanding atonement. He is the Lamb of God, who shed His blood as an atonement for sins. 

Judicial The Bible uses terminology that implies the idea of a judicial system. We will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ. He is also our Advocate. God’s moral Government is emphasized by His use of the law. The fact that He is our Judge, and that our many violations of the law requires our personal day in court, we can only be found just before God because Jesus is the Advocate that pleas for us. It is only by the merit of Christ, and not our self-righteousness, that the Judge is willing, and just, in being and able to pardon us. Terms such as justification and pardon seem to fit the judicial model better than any other theory.  

Most people use a  judicial theory of the Atonement as their only base. This causes many Scripture verses to become difficulties or mysteries. There are two primary views that fall under the judicial category, which are, the Penal Substitutionary Atonement view, and the Governmental Atonement view. Both of these have been touched upon in the preceding chart. 

As we evaluate any view, we must conclude that for any view to be acceptable, it must first be Biblical. The following criteria will help and assist you in evaluating each system. 

The Death of Christ 

1. His death was neither the incidental nor the inevitable consequence of His collision with the passions and prejudices of the Jewish people.

2. The laying down His life was a voluntary act.

3. To lay down His life was one of the ends for which He came into the world.

4. His Death is immediately related to the deliverance of condemnation of those who believe in Him.

5. He accepted John the Baptist’s testimony that Jesus was the Lamb of God.

6. He described His death as a death for others. 

In any adequate theory of the purpose of the Death of Christ, these various statements must find a place and an explanation. 


We are sinful and of sinful tendency. We can only be saved in a deliverance from sin and a moral harmonization with God. Without such facts there is no place for the redemptive work of Christ, and no saving office which he can fulfill.  If this were not true, then what is the need for the redemptive mediation of Christ? Why can't man achieve his own deliverance from sin and harmonize himself with God? Why can't God achieve both without a mediation in Christ? Every theory of atonement that may be properly called such must answer these questions. 

The Penal Theory 

Assumes that the Trinity divided itself and punished Jesus on the Cross. It assumes that the punishment of the innocent is wrong for man, but somehow, would be right for God.  It assumes that sin can be transferred from one to another, which is an ethical fiction. Righteousness can no more be imputed to a sinner than bravery to a coward or wisdom to a fool. This theory assumes that Christ paid the sin-debt, but yet for this key issue, they are without any Scriptural evidence. Consistent Calvinists will say this payment is limited to the Elect only, and to their peril, they must rob the Scriptures of all the references to the will of God to save all.  Most who hold to this atonement theory are inconsistent in their use of it. When were sins paid? (assuming that they were paid) On the Cross of course! Then in reality, when someone gets “saved” they are actually just waking up to the fact that they had been saved all the time they thought they were lost; they just woke up to the fact that they have always been saved since they were "paid for" 2000 years ago. The inevitable conclusion of payment is, that if Jesus died for all, then all must be acquitted on judgment day. 

I personally reject this theory since to make it work I must either limit God’s power to save, or I must make God save all. I do not cherish either horn of this dilemma, nor do I wish to create a dilemma within the Bible where there is none. 

The Governmental Theory

The essence of this theory is that Jesus voluntarily suffered as a substitute for punishment. To be able to punish someone they must be guilty. But to torture an innocent man is to make him suffer. Suffering inflicted upon a man to make him better in the future is not punishment, but discipline: to be punishment, it must be inflicted for evil deeds done in the past. Suffering endured for the sake of society is not punishment: if accepted voluntarily, it is the heroism of self-sacrifice; if inflicted by arbitrary authority, it is injustice on the one side and martyrdom on the other. We must know that the suffering inflicted is deserved, for this is a necessary element in the conception of punishment.  

The Governmental Theory is illustrated by the form of oriental law that is still practiced in some places in the Middle East today. For example, in Turkey, a criminal gets a one year prison sentence. His family cannot provide on their own. So according to their law, the wife, friend, or child can substitute for the breadwinner by taking their place in prison, or could even go as far as substituting in death. In the view of the government, this would satisfy the interest of justice. Through this approach, the demands of the government are met and the guilty given grace by the innocent, but voluntary substitute. 

With this system we can still have the pardon the Bible talks about through the provision made by our Savior. Nowhere in the Bible is it said that Jesus was punished on the Cross, but everywhere it is said that He suffered. Luke 9:22; 17:25; Acts 3:18; 26:23; 2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Pet. 1:11; 2:21; 3:18; 4:1, 13; 5:1. 

If Jesus suffered, he was not punished. If he was not punished, he was not sinful on the Cross. But what about 2 Cor. 5:21 “For he hath made him to be sin for us.”?  The Scriptures commonly use the singular term “sin” in the sense of a sin-offering. In the Old Testament we are told that the animal sacrifice was to become “sin,” but yet, because of the context, we see it rightfully translated as "sin-offering." In Heb. 10:4, it is said that “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.” If we say that sin was transferred, and Jesus literally became sin, then we must go against the Scripture and say that the blood of bull and goats were effectual offerings, that sin could be transferred to them, for they too were made "sin." Yet we find no statement in Scripture admits that a transfer of character or sin is possible, but explicit statements that it cannot.   

1 Pet. 2:24, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body of the tree.” In what sense did he bare our sins in his own body? It is unfeasible that sins were transferred. He bore the weight of, or, bore up our sins a way that the responsibility for our burden was upon him as is the suffering for them were his own. Note that throughout the Epistles of Peter he is especially careful in emphasizing the suffering and not the punishment of Jesus Christ. 

Gal 3:13, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree.” Are we to assume that everyone that was ever crucified was guilty?  History disproves that notion. While it is true that everyone that has ever been crucified was an object of a curse or, cursed in the sense of public disapproval and shame. He endured this public rejection and shame for us, and not the disfavor of God.

1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23, “For ye are bought with a price” and Acts 20:28, “The Holy Ghost hath  made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” Notice first of all that nothing is said in these verses about paying for sins. Oh yes, it was a high price to pay for the Son of God, but this way of speaking proves nothing for the Penal Substitutionary theory. On Veteran’s Day every year I hear speeches about the “High Price of Freedom,” but yet, if I look at the high cost of this freedom I must ask, if twenty fewer Americans died in World War Two, would we still have won? What if only one American died in defense of their country during World War two? Could we still talk about the high cost of freedom? We sure could!  It is not that 50,0000 American deaths purchased the victory in the war, but we are all indebted to those who died in defense of our freedom. In the same manner, one Jesus does not = X  amount of sinners. The Atonement is not a commercial transaction! Any that come to Jesus are due to Him. It was His sacrifice, and not their good works that allow them to come to Him. 

This Governmental theory looks at these judicial statements of Scripture in light of Oriental Law. God as our moral Governor, and thus, must maintain His moral government. The justice that is to be maintained is to keep the believer in this moral realm. The Death of Christ was necessary to justly maintain the integrity of His moral Government. God and His Government are inseparable, so sin is an offense not only against good law and order, but an offense against God. 

This view of the atonement rejects any punishment of the Son of God upon the cross. It represents the Holy Trinity as working together to make provision for man. The Cross is not a scene where the Father is hurling lightning bolts down upon the head of the Son in wrath, but a scene where the love of God causes Him to endure the most horrendous pain in order save as many of mankind as He can.    

We might admit to an element of penal substitution, but the texts that are used to support this theory neither assert nor require it. To rely upon the Penal Substitutionary theory of atonement and its conclusions as our sole source of understanding the work of Christ, will cause us to use concepts and ideas that are not sanctioned by the Scriptures. We must be cautioned that this will inevitably lead us to interject our presuppositions into the meaning of Scriptures that are not really there.  

One last word about these theories. Some may differ as to what theory is truth, but that does not mean that someone cannot be justified unless they accept a particular theory. It is not intellectual assent to theories that saves, but faith resting upon the work of Christ itself that is essential to salvation.   

Calvary and the Atonement 

God is One. If we were able to alienate the Son from the rest of the Trinity at the cross, we could no longer have God. It is essential to the existence and being of God that He remains immutable. With this thought in mind, how are we to reconcile most peoples view about God's supposed rejection of the Son while He was upon the cross? Did Jesus literally become all of our sin and thereby get ousted from the Trinity? Can we find a way to reconcile the Scriptural account of the atonement without destroying the doctrine of the Trinity, and the essential Oneness of God? 

There is a more Biblical and plausible view here summarized by Dr. Daniel Steele. 

The Governmental Theory of the Atonement 

We have insuperable philosophical and ethical difficulties in the way of receiving the statement that the guilt of the race was transferred to Christ. Character is personal, and cannot be transferred. Sin is not an entity, a substance which can be separated from the sinner and be transferred to another and be made an attribute of his character by such a transfer. Sin is the act or state of the thinker. If sin cannot exist in the abstract, it cannot be punished in the abstract. If it cannot be transferred to another, it cannot be punished in another, though a man may voluntarily suffer to save another from punishment.

While it is true that Jesus is our substitute, He is our substitute truly and strictly only in suffering, not in punishment. Sin cannot be punished and pardoned also. (In a court of law, the judge has only two options if you are guilty, he either pardons or he punishes, he cannot do both. So if sin was paid for on the cross, then the sin that He died for was punished and therefore, there is no need for God to forgive since the cause of justice has already been satisfied.)   

This is illustrated in the transaction of twenty dollars. A lender from a bank loans me $20.00. I become incapable of paying you back. The loaner of the money is faced with forgiving me of the debt, or having me punished for not paying him back. A friend of mine intercedes and pays the $20.00 that I owe, and it is accepted by the loaner. Now, if the payment is accepted, the loaner does not "forgive" me of my debt. There is no grace in the transaction from the loaner. The Penal Substitution Theory makes salvation an issue of merit by payment, not by grace and forgiveness.

The Governmental Theory emphasizes suffering, and not payment. It is where someone voluntarily suffers in place of penalty to satisfy the demands of God's Government. God accepts the substituted suffering since it satisfies the integrity of the Law. Because of this substitute, God is able to pardon and forgive the sinner. Salvation is therefore by grace, not by the works of a payment. The character of God being merciful and gracious is then vindicated, because it is not a payment, but by a provision made as a substitute for penalty. 

In his presentation of the Governmental theory, Dr. Steele sees no division in the Trinity on Calvary’s Cross. The atonement is a provision and not a payment. The whole Trinity working together in God’s plan to reconcile man, there was no separation on the cross, for ,"God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself." 2 Cor. 5:19. 

Further Steele says: 

There is no punishment of sin except in the person of the sinner who neglects so great a Savior. Sin was not punished on the Cross. Calvary was the scene of wondrous mercy and love, not of wrath and penalty. 

What is the inevitable outcome of the doctrine that sin was punished on the cross? Whose sin? If it be answered, that of the whole human race, then universalism emerges, for God cannot in justice punish sin twice. 

Now there are several reasons why I have been unable to preach this theory of the atonement (that Jesus was punished on the cross). 

1. It is not exact justice to punish the innocent.

2. Guilt is personal and can not be transferred.

3. It leaves no room for a literal and true pardon from sin,….. Pardon, being a gracious remission of deserved penalty, cannot be required after the penalty has been fully endured by the Substitute. In essence he is saying,  if it’s paid, there is nothing left to forgive.

4. The punishment of the innocent….would be wrong for man and right for God?

5. For if the sins of all  men were punished in Jesus Christ, no man can be justly punished, either in this world or in the world to come, for sins already expiated by suffering their penalty. I lay no foundations for the delusive doctrine of the final salvation of all men.   

In the Governmental Theory the vicarious sufferings and death of Christ are an atonement for sin as a conditional substitute for punishment, fulfilling, on the obligation of sin, the obligation  of justice in moral government.  The advantages of this theory are: 

1. It can be preached without mental reservations.

2. It avoids the irrational idea that Christ was literally made sin and a curse.

3. It makes no dualism or collision between the divine Persons, the Father punishing the Son.

4. It satisfies the Protector of the divine law.  Personifying the law and saying it was satisfied is wrong, Only persons can be satisfied.

5. This theory (the Governmental theory) is Biblical.


The Sacrificial Theory

The Sacrificial Theory is in agreement with the Governmental Theory over the errors of the Penal Substitionary Theory. Where it differs from the Governmental Theory is in its explanation of the “why” and “how” of the atonement. For an example, the Penal Theory has the payment of sins as the “how” of the atonement. God is required to punish sin, and sin is either punished in the sinner, or the substitute. The Governmental Theory has its “why” in explaining that God must uphold the integrity of His government. Sin is punishable, but a substitute can voluntarily “suffer” in place of the guilty. The demands of governmental justice are satisfied, and the ability for the Governor to pardon sin exists. The reason why most people prefer a model of atonement other than the Sacrificial Theory is because these other theories seek to explain the “how” and the “why” of atonement, and the Sacrificial Theory does not. We are not told why God requires sacrifice, or how it affects Him as a requirement for forgiveness. The reason resides in the mind of God. It really does not matter "why" or "how" this works, but the fact that God commands it. That should be enough. If God intended for us to know every detail of the atonement, He would have done so. Some theories can give us a "how" and "why," but that "how" and " why" is not explicitly stated in Scripture. It is explained by theory, and therefore is no better, Scripturally speaking, than not knowing the "how" and " why" in the Sacrificial Theory. 

Some complain that since one cannot know the the "how" and "why" in the Sacrificial Theory, it makes the theory too hard to explain and understand. Some have argued that the Gospel must be simple to explain, and therefore reject this theory. Simplicity however, is never stated in Scripture as the gauge of truth. Simple explanations do not prove truth, only simplicity.

What matters in the atonement is that we understand that our salvation is based solely upon the result of the work of Jesus Christ. In this, all true theories of the atonement may lead us there. But one must consider the impact that a theory has on the rest of what we believe. How we view the atonement, which is the basic doctrine in which we interpret almost all other doctrines, affects nearly every Scripture we read. This can result in minor deviations in nonessential beliefs; but it does have the potential to lead to fatal doctrinal errors. Because of this, I feel compelled to affirm that the Scriptures assert only one view of atonement, which is through sacrifice. The Bible states no other theory. While some passages on atonement must be artificially pressed into alignment for other theories, all statements of atonement can be easily aligned with sacrifice. 

While I have presented several options for your consideration, I would be remiss in my Christian duty if I did not press you towards the atonement of the Bible, which is Sacrifice. A Sacrifice is not a payment, and therefore cannot be limited. It is like the Governmental Theory in that it gives us a provision for sin. Forgiveness would be based upon our appeal to the Sacrifice of Christ for our sins. How this makes things right with God, I do not know. I only trust in faith that it works, because God commanded it, and required it for atonement.

One question I will leave you with is: does God only work within the realm of just one theory? Does God reveal atonement to the Jews by the means of Sacrifice, the Romans and the Greeks by way of legal models like the Governmental Theory, and perhaps, the anthropomorphic model for the unsophisticated and unrefined? If this is so, and each theory leads us to different interpretations of Biblical doctrine, do we have to exclude any consideration of the meaning of atonement? Then what value is there it, besides that it works? Because of this, I feel that we are safest in keeping Sacrifice as the primary and Biblical foundation in which other doctrines are based. In this, one cannot go wrong. First, because it is clearly Biblical. Secondly, because it does not explain the "why" and "how," we cannot "systemize" the atonement in a way that causes us to read things into Scripture, but leaves us the liberty to read Scripture for what it says. The Sacrificial Theory is the least invasive theory when it comes to interpretation of Scripture.    

See The Importance of Theology

See Choosing a Theology




Rev. Daniel Steele, D.D. Binney’s Theological Compend Improved

                                           Steele’s Answers

                                           The Gospel of the Comforter

                                           Half Hours with St. John

Edgar P. Ellyson              Theological Compend

William Newton Clarke, D.D.    An Outline of Christian Theology

Vincent Taylor                  Forgiveness and Reconciliation

R.W. Dale                         The Atonement

John Miley                        Systematic Theology

S.J Gamertsfelder            Systematic Theology

D.D. Whedon                   Commentary on the New Testament


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