Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Strength of God

Just about to go off to Aussie for a 2 week holiday. It'll be two weeks until I return. But I thought I’d type this while a big email sends… a thought I’ve been wanting to get down for a while.

I don’t think many Christians really understand what the Lord’s ‘strength’ is these days, I certainly find it difficult. We think God should give us what we want, give us a good life with no problems and no difficulties, with nothing ever going wrong. (Let’s leave aside the fact that those very problems build in us the character that makes us who we are.)

So many Christians seem to agree with the ‘prayer of Jabez’ doctrine. Pray this, ask for that, God will give you this and that, that so your life will be prosperous and happy. It’s a lovely idea, but is that really how God works? Is that how He wants us to live – without need or want or problem or pain, or persecution?

Real life just isn’t so rosy. What happens when it all seems to fall apart? It does, sometimes. What do you do when God doesn’t seem to have magically fixed all the problems? This happens. I don’t expect life to be problem free – in fact, I expect problems. I count myself blessed in the midst of my woes, because I am blessed – with countless things in spite of them.

I don’t think God takes away my problems or the pain they cause; it just doesn’t seem to work like that. But rather, I know He is with me even in those times – in the darkest valley. It doesn’t make the problem any less painful, it doesn’t make it go away, but it gives me the strength to bear it. It gives me strength to know that God loves me, and that one day I will live in a new body and my current problems will be over.

Somehow, the very fact of God Himself being with me under my problems is incredibly powerful. In fact, I think that’s the way God shows Himself to be the most powerful – that His strength is perfected in our weakness. What is the source of that strength? It is Himself, living in us to walk beside us. It is not that He makes us emotionally blocked from the sometimes painful reality of the world we live in, nor is that He always fixes our problems or gives us the answers we want or the things we’d like. Our strength is God Himself, and He is enough.

Yes, it’s nice for God to bless us with the things we need and ask for, and to be sure He sometimes does. But we are not made stronger by blessing; we instead tend to become complacent and spiritually lazy. It is in adversity that gives us the opportunity to grow stronger, and we find that strength in God-with-us. It is that strength that fills us with praise and worship for God when things are going well for us.

Even if nothing seemed to go right, and God seemed to never do anything for me, I would still be committed to Him because I know He loves me. I may be in the darkest tunnel – but the Light of God at the end of the tunnel draws me on, and instils in me the strength to carry on. It is not physical strength, but strength of spirit. It is the strength that says, I came into this world with nothing, and I will leave this world with nothing, but I will dwell in the house of God forever.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

To hell with 'Hell'

Well, it's an interesting title - but an important issue, I think. Lots of relevant information and verses about hell can be found on my other blog. Here, I've tried to condense down my main ideas.

The word ‘hell’

Originally, ‘hell’ simply meant to conceal, to hide, to cover; hence it was properly descriptive of any concealed, hidden, or covered place. In Old English literature may be found references to the helling of potatoes - that is, putting them into pits - and of the helling of a house, meaning to cover it with a thatched roof. Thus, originally, the word had no connotation of an ‘eternal world of torment’, but rather a practical daily meaning.

There are four words translated as ‘hell’ in the KJV, ‘sheol’ (63), ‘hades’ (11), ‘Gehenna’ (12), and ‘Tartarus’ (1). I will only talk about the first three.

Almost invariably in the OT, ‘sheol’ simply means ‘the grave’, or the condition of being dead. Occasionally, it seems to be used as a hyperbole. ‘Hades’ is synonymous with ‘sheol’, being used to translate ‘Sheol’ in the LXX. It should be noted that neither of these words indicate punishment of any kind, or a literal ‘place’ – they both simply refer to the state of being dead.

‘Gehenna’ is another Greek word that Jesus uses in his teachings. Gehenna, literally, was a deep valley just outside Jerusalem which was used as a place for the disposal of the offal of the city. Fires were kept constantly burning in this valley in order to destroy the offal cast into it. The same offal would breed worms, (for all rotting meat does), hence came the expression, ‘Where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’

In Jesus' day the people were well acquainted with the purpose for which Gehenna was used, so when he employed it as a symbol of the utter destruction of those unworthy of life everlasting, they would be quick to get the force of the illustration. It is said that the carcasses of dead animals and dead criminals - whom the Jews judged as unworthy of a resurrection - were also destroyed in Gehenna. So, people listening to Jesus would be quick to catch the thought of eternal destruction and death when he used Gehenna as a symbol of the punishment of the wicked.

Jesus used the word Gehenna in his Sermon on the Mount, saying, "Whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell [Gehenna] fire." (Matt. 5:22) Gehenna was not far from where Jesus uttered these words, and those who heard them would not think for a moment that he was teaching that all who do not accept him before they die were to be tortured forever. So, while both Sheol and Hades represent the death condition, Jesus seems to have used ‘Gehenna’ when referring to the destruction, not punishment, of those unworthy of life.

Eternal torment as the punishment of sin

It seems that eternal torment/punishment of the wicked was a heathen idea, as it is not found in the Old Testament, yet had its beginnings with the Egyptians a few centuries before Christ. The Romans expanded these myths, and they came into the church gradually, as heathens were converted but carried across their old ideas. The Egyptian and Roman authorities fostered the belief in eternal torment, that they did not believe themselves, as a means of controlling the uneducated masses. Several ancient works, from Polybius to Plato to Aristotle make it clear that this was the purpose of these myths.

Consequently, there were mixed opinions on the matter in Jesus’ time. Many have debated what Jesus taught on the matter, indeed what the Bible teaches on the subject, and there are several aspects that need consideration…

The Biblical punishment of sin - death

Clearly, the Bible states many times that wicked people are “destroyed”, will “perish”, and are punished with “death” and “eternal destruction”. Some example verses are:

Joh 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that everyone believing into Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is everlasting life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Phi 3:18-19 For many walk as hostile to the cross of Christ, of whom I often told you, and now even weeping I say it, whose end is destruction

1Jo 5:12-13 The one having the Son has life. The one not having the Son of God does not have life. I wrote these things to you, the ones believing in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have everlasting life, and that you may believe in the name of the Son of God.

Gen 2:17 but of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you may not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, dying you shall die. (c.f. Gen 3:4 And the serpent said to the woman, Dying you shall not die.)

Joh 15:6 Whoever doesn't live in me is thrown away like a branch and dries up. Branches like this are gathered, thrown into a fire, and burned. (clearly the idea here is destruction, not torment)

Rev 21:8 But for the cowardly and unbelieving, and those having become foul, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all the lying ones, their part will be in the Lake burning with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.

Irenaeus supported the idea that the wicked go out of existence. In his work against heresies, he says: "The principle of existence is not inherent in our own constitutions, but is given us of God; and the soul can exist only so long as God wills. He who cherishes the gift of existence, and is thankful to the Giver, shall exist forever; but he who despises it, and is ungrateful, deprives himself of the privilege of existing forever."..."He who is unthankful to God for this temporal life, which is little, cannot justly expect from him an existence which is endless."

Most ‘traditional’ Christians teach that the punishment of sin - ‘death’ - is actually not death. It is ‘the death that never dies’, it is ‘separation from God’, it is ‘somewhere we don’t want to go’ – it is anything but death in the commonly accepted definition of ‘the complete absence of life’. On what basis is this taught? Why, it is on the basis of eternal torment of the wicked.

So let us consider some of the verses, words and phrases in the Bible people use to support eternal torment.

‘Torment’ after death

First the supporter of eternal torment points to Mat 25:41:

Then He will also say to those on His left, Go away from Me, cursed ones, into the everlasting fire having been prepared for the Devil and his angels.

And then connects this with Rev 14:9-11:

If anyone worships the beast and its image, and receives a mark on his forehead, or in his hand, he also shall drink of the wine of the anger of God having been mixed undiluted in the cup of His wrath. And he will be tormented by fire and brimstone before the holy angels and before the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever.

And also Rev 20:10:

And the Devil leading them astray was thrown into the Lake of Fire and Brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet were and they were tormented day and night to the ages of the ages.

So, eternal torment is concluded by such arguments. But, consider two places where similar figurative language is used:

Isa 34:9 And its torrents shall be turned to pitch, and its dust to brimstone; and its land shall become burning pitch.

Isa 34:10 It shall not be put out night or day; its smoke shall go up forever. From generation to generation, it shall lie waste.

Rev 18:8b And she [Babalon] will be consumed with fire

Rev 18:18 And they cried out, seeing the smoke of her burning

Rev 19:3 And her [Babalon’s] smoke rose up forever and ever.

From these passages, it seems clear that the ‘smoke rising for ever and ever’ is a symbol of their complete destruction, not that the things are being continually burned forever. So, why do we assume anything different in the other passages in Revelation? Perhaps it is because of that word ‘tormented’ (‘basanizo’ in the Greek).

The word for ‘tormented’

Some research on this word quickly yields that originally the word simply meant to test the authenticity of gold and silver coins using a touch-stone. If the scratch made by the coin on the stone is a certain colour, the testing of the coin resulted in it acceptance. But if the testing proved it to be fake, it was no doubt removed from circulation. A jailer, who confined prisoners for debt, was called a "basanistes" (Mat 18:34).

So, the idea of ‘test’, ‘examine’ or ‘convict’ perhaps best conveys the meaning. I suggest that ‘basanizo’ does not carry connotations of torture, but perhaps it ties in with being ‘tested by fire’ (see 1Co 3:11-15, Mar 9:49, 1 Pe 1:7, Luk 3:16, and also Heb 12:29). Perhaps God will both test and prove who are His by ‘fire’ – those who are righteous live through it, and the wicked are destroyed by it. Furthermore, in general usage, fire is associated not with torture, but destruction. In light of all this, relevant passages from Revelation seem to be best interpreted not as torment, but instead ‘the smoke from their *test and destruction by fire* would go up forever and ever’.

Even if one grants the meaning of ‘torment’, the torment is not everlasting. Rather, it is the smoke that is ‘everlasting’. What would that smoke be from? Perhaps, just like Sodom and Gomorrah, it is of what the fire destroyed.

“Nashing of teeth”

Jesus uses pictorial language of ‘weeping and nashing of teeth’ only in His parables, often seeming to use it to highlight how undesirable everlasting death is in contrast with everlasting life. Further, the weeping and nashing of teeth is never described as ‘everlasting’. Hence, even if there is ‘weeping and nashing of teeth’ of the wicked after physical death, it needn’t be prolonged. Indeed, when they are informed of their fate, they will likely weep or be angry before it is carried out.

“Everlasting/unquenchable fire”

These phrases were used by writers of the time to express fires that completely consumed (destroyed) what was put into them. The suggestion that people will dwell in fire forever, being ‘tormented by the flame’ and yet not destroyed is never hinted at in these phrases.

“Everlasting punishment”

Simply, if the consequences of a punishment are everlasting, surely it is within reason to call it an ‘everlasting punishment’. Both ‘everlasting life’ and ‘everlasting death’ are everlasting in nature, one is a reward, the other a punishment. So, if the wicked are put to death by being consumed by fire (which may well be painful for a time), they will be dead forever – not tormented forever.

The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luk 16:19-31)

There are abundant reasons why this is, in fact, a parable. A manuscript of the seventh century (Beza) introduces it with, "And he spake also another parable." Another of the tenth century reads: "the Lord spake this parable." This is the fifth in a series of parables; the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son, the unjust steward, and Lazarus. He reproves the Pharasees (who were listening), before telling them this parable.

Lazarus means "whom God helps" (a form of the Hebrew name Eleazar). The Rich man portrays the Jewish leaders and their nation. The symbolism used is clearly targeted at conveying that God accepts the lowly but does not like the self-righteous. It is suggested by some commentators that this parable was an adaptation of a heathen story common at the time.


In light of all this, plus verses on the resurrection, I have reached something like a ‘conditionalist’ view of eternal life. These are a few difficulties with this view, but it seems there are far more with the idea of eternal torture, and on the whole this view seems to line up with Scripture more.

1) When anyone dies physically, they do not live again at all until the resurrection. Their ‘soul’ is not conscious, for they are not alive.

2) Both the ‘saved’ and wicked will be resurrected

3) The ‘saved’ will continue to live forever, but the wicked will be ‘turned back’ into the state of death (not being consciously alive/ceasing to exist as a living person).

4) Upon learning this and possibly while being destroyed by fire, the wicked will probably ‘weep and be angry’. However, they will ultimately be destroyed. 5) Thus, our ‘hope in resurrection’ is quite literally the promise of eternal life instead of ceasing to consciously exist.

Blinded by our paradigm

People can be so arrogant, especially Christians. In researching for my next post on the topic of hell (yes, wait for it), I have found there are people who are not convinced of an idea in the face of convincing evidence. Today, I think I worked out why this is so.

All the ‘ideas’ each of us hold form a kind of connected structure. Each component is shaped to fit with and compliment the others to such an extent that if a component were to be removed, the whole structure would collapse. Quite understandably, people try and avoid such collapse at all costs, because it is too humbling to realise their whole creed of ideas is fundamentally flawed and requires a complete change in paradigm (their overall system of ideas). So, because they don’t want to change paradigms, they will not change any the small ideas that comprise it.

If someone suggests a certain idea is wrong, a person cannot simply correct that certain idea by itself – because it is tied in with all their other ideas. Changes to one idea influence all the ideas in the paradigm. Changing one idea might mean that several other ideas loose support, especially if those other ideas need it to be valid. So, if one is believes the other ideas are correct, one fixes them in place – and it leaves a shape that is fitted only by a particular idea, other ideas simply do not fit.

People therefore say, “Those other ideas are certainly true, so therefore this idea is true also because it’s the only one that fits with them”. Then, they use the same logic on every other idea they have, and so their logic becomes circular. Unless they change all their ideas to fit with a new idea, they cannot accept it.

This, I think, is why there are so many useless arguments between Christians who think different things. Ultimately, if the foundation is a certain shape, the house must also take that shape. The shape of the house can only be changed if the foundations themselves are changed. But of course, people hold the foundation of their ideas, which is their ‘paradigm’, very dearly – so they don’t want to believe ideas that don’t fit onto that foundation. It seems the paradigm is what truly governs what people believe, rather than the logical arguments that may be presented to them.

Ultimately, people hold their own paradigm because it makes a certain amount of sense as a whole, otherwise they wouldn’t hold it; but what are the underlying, logical conclusions of that paradigm, and are they sensible?

To make matters worse, people have a tendency to think something is more likely to be true if a majority believes it. Even though the idea may not have logical basis, it is perceived as having logical basis if everyone thinks it does. They are thus victims of ‘group-think’, to use a psychology term. And so this makes people even less likely to change their paradigm, because that would go against the common opinion. In fact, people tend to believe what the group believes without really thinking through it for themselves, and ‘the group’ takes on a mind of its own.

So, when a different idea is suggested, people do not see it for what it is, but for what it is not. They only see how it cannot possibly be unified with their current ideas, and so instead of critiquing the idea itself, they criticise it because it does not fit. So long as they have this mindset, they will not see the value of the idea. It is like giving petrol to someone who travels on horseback. Of course, they deem the fuel as worthless unless they use a car instead of a horse.

Clearly, then, when Christians argue over some ideas, it is like they think they are arguing over how valuable petrol is, when they are actually arguing whether a horse or a car is better. The petrol, of course, is of far less significance than the car. Likewise, the ideas they argue are mere components of much greater paradigms, and so they don’t see the other’s perspective - their paradigm. They have different paradigms, and so they each cannot fit each others ideas and thus disregard them without valid reason.

So I wonder if we can really understanding an idea if you don’t understand the paradigm it fits into. I wonder how many different ‘Christian paradigms’ there are, and whether we really understand them.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Biblical Relationships

After a recent post by Kelly and a few others, I have finally got around to getting down some thoughts on the issue of Biblical relationships between men and women. There are two places in the Bible I’ll focus on – the first is Creation and the fall, the second is a look at Eph 5:21-33 in the context of Paul's writings. Hopefully, this will result in some good ideas about submission/headship. In the interest of brevity I can’t present complete arguments as to why I say some things, so forgive me if I seem too like I’m making unjustified statements. I'd be keen to hear others' ideas about all this...


There are some pretty obvious and not-so-obvious points to be found here. Firstly, both men and women together were given equal standing to God, because He created them ‘male and female’ (Gen 1:27, 28). But, God makes man first (2:7). Being the ‘first’ or ‘firstborn’ has associations with it in Jewish culture, with the firstborn typically being given more responsibility or seen as the ‘leader’ (check Col 1:18). Here we begin to see the first in a string of subtle hints of God’s indented relationship between men and women.

God makes woman “as a helper for him” (2:18) – but the Hebrew is better stated as “a helpful counterpart for him.” Again, there is the connotation of equality of status, but perhaps not exactly the same function in relationship. Then, Adam recognises the woman as “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” (2:23) – expressing his recognition that she was his counterpart. However, another thing noteworthy here is that Adam names her (twice), because such responsibility again could imply a difference between the man and the woman.

God told Adam not to eat of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (2:17), and evidently left Adam to tell Eve. In this sense, Adam was again given a responsibility to ensure neither of them did as God asked. So, it is hardly surprising that the ‘serpent’, which we assume is a metaphor for the devil, undermines this responsibility by persuading the woman to go against what her husband had said (3:1-5). Thus, instead of being loyal to her husband, she obeys the serpent. Adam forgoes his responsibility by not only not stopping her, but eating the fruit himself also (3:6). So, perhaps there is more that ‘fell’ here than merely sin against God.

God calls Adam to account first (3:9), again indicating God views Adam as the one who is responsible. By shifting the blame (3:12), Adam tries to avoid facing the responsibility God had entrusted to him. After more blame-shifting and God punishing the serpent, He speaks to Eve. Notice that God did not state that it was ‘for eating the fruit’ that God states her husband will ‘will rule over’ her (3:16) – perhaps this was because the eating of the fruit was Adam’s responsibility. Thus, perhaps the consequences for the women are a result of her breaking of the Godly relationship, for now the husband will desire to ‘rule over her’. This ‘rule’ is not in a good sense, but a harmful sense (compare 4:7), and God ‘instituting’ such dominance but rather merely stating what the consequences are going to be. Indeed, for millennia men have seemingly wanted to ‘rule’ women.

God addresses Adam differently to Eve, saying “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree, although I commanded you ‘You must never eat its fruit’” (3:17). In contrast to His address to Eve, God highlights that He gave the command – and responsibility - to Adam, and He was irresponsible. Furthermore, it is interesting that God says “you listened to your wife” instead of ‘listening to God’.

So, I would suggest that this story illustrates a break of the ideal relationships involving God and people, that ‘the head of every man is God, and the head of the woman is the man’ (compare 1Co 11:3). But what does ‘head’ really mean, and in what sense do people ‘submit’ to the head? As I hinted throughout this look at Genesis, I think ‘headship’ involves responsibility, and ‘submission’ involves devotion. So, let’s look at Paul’s writings to find out…

Paul’s writings

The Genesis account seems a poor argument to assert the ‘headship’ of the man, but Paul clearly thought it was valid support of the ‘headship’ of the man, as he writes in 1 Tim 2:13, 14: “And I do not allow a woman to… exercise dominion over a man … for Adam was formed first, then Eve” (the teaching and silence matters are outside my current scope of discussion). Clearly, the fact that Adam and Eve were husband and wife cannot be overlooked. Paul points to the fact that Eve was deceived and ate as reason why a wife should not usurp the responsibility of the husband – again indicating this is a notable element of the Genesis account.

Paul states that the man is the ‘head’ of the wife and for wives to ‘submit’ to their husbands too often to ignore (e.g. 1 Co 11:3,7, Eph 5:21-33, Col 3:18, 1Pe 3:1-7, 1 Tim 2:11-15, ). Yet, he speaks of Christ’s ‘headship’ and our ‘submission’ to God even more commonly. So, the real crux of Paul’s teachings on the relationship of husband and wife is found in the parallel with Christ and the church, as outlined in Eph 5:21-33:

Submit yourselves to each other, in reverence of God. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands in the same way that you submit to the Lord. The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. It is his body, and he is its Savior. As the church submits to Christ, so wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it. He did this to make the church holy by cleansing it, washing it using water along with spoken words. Then he could present it to himself as a glorious church, without any kind of stain or wrinkle-holy and without faults. So, husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies. A man who loves his wife loves himself. No one ever hated his own body. Instead, he feeds and takes care of it, as Christ takes care of the church.

We are parts of his body. That's why a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will be one. This is a great mystery. (I'm talking about Christ's relationship to the church.) But, every husband must love his wife as he loves himself, and wives should respect their husbands.

Firstly, in verse 21, it is clear that we are told to “submit yourselves to each other, in reverence of God.” What follows in the rest of the chapter is a description of what the responsibility of service and submission involve for both the husband and the wife. Man and woman are different in how they relate, and therefore ‘submission’ will take a different yet complimentary shape for both.

In all cases, submission is a voluntary and willing form of service, loyalty, and devotion. The word is also translated a ‘subject’ – which would describe the ‘subjects’ of a King. It is portrayed as a proper and willing response to another. Submitting is not something we are compelled to do, but something that is right for us to do.

But, it should be noted Paul’s ideas of ‘headship’ seem often tied to the marriage relationship between husband and wife, and should not be carelessly taken to apply outside it. Plenty of people seem to apply ‘headship’ and ‘submission’ to all men and women. Yet, I am not sure if biblical ‘headship’ applies in general outside of marriage, but I suspect it does not – after all, a ‘head’ can only have one ‘body’. However, the principles found in Paul’s teaching on this matter of how to love one another can perhaps be applied outside of marriage to our friendships – without need to maintain a ‘authority and submission’ mindset.

That said, let’s list some things about the relationship of Christ and the church – because this is the key to understanding this passage.


  • Is ‘head’ and ‘Lord’ of the church
  • Spiritual leader/’head’ (Heb 12:2 “Jesus, the chief leader and perfector of faith”).
  • As the ‘foremost’, He submitted to the church in the form of a servant (Mat 20:26,28). Christ made it clear that the ‘head’ is not a position to forcibly exercise authority over others, but rather it is the responsibility to serve in submission.
  • He is completely committed and devoted to the church, and does not waver (Heb 13:8)
  • Loves the church graciously, for nothing will separate the church from His committed love (Rom 8:35)
  • Completely obeyed and submitted selflessly to God’s will, rather than His own. (Mat 26:39)
  • Loved the church intensely, at the sacrifice of Himself (John 15:13)
  • Sacrificed Himself for the Church (John 10:11)
  • Lead by being the first to sacrifice for the church, which inspires love from us (1Jo 4:19, 1Jo 4:11, Eph 5:2)
  • Is the ‘savior’, of ‘rescuer’, of the church.
  • Is the shepherd of the church, protecting, looking after them, and bringing them back from going astray (John 10:11, 14, Heb 13:20, 1Pe 2:25)
  • ‘Glorifies’ the church, by living and dying for it
  • The giver and wellspring of life (John 4:14)
  • ‘Feeds’ the church (John 6:35)

The Church

  • Is considered Christ’s own ‘body’ (note parallels with Eph 5:21-33)
  • The church is co-heir with Christ (Rom 8:17)
  • Sacrifices itself for Christ,
  • Willingly ‘submits’ to Christ, loyally following Him – and serves ‘in the same attitude as Christ’ (Eph 5:24, 1Pe 4:1)
  • Should be completely obedient to God’s will (which is Christ’s)
  • ‘Glorifies’, respects, and praises Christ for what He’s done (2Th 1:12)
  • Loses its own life, but finds it in Christ (Mat 10:39)
  • Dies to its own desires, but is made ‘alive in Christ’ (Rom
  • Must love Christ far more than anything else on earth (Luk 14:26)
  • Finds fulfillment in Christ (John 6:35)
  • Is ‘one with Christ’ in spirit (Rom 8:9).
  • Is completely loyal to Christ

Comparing the two, we find that both Christ and the Church:

  • Cannot have purpose without the other
  • ‘Submit’ to serve each other
  • Sacrifice their own desires for the sake of the other
  • Love each other more than anything else on earth
  • Are (co-heirs) of the Father.

However, these similarities are expressed somewhat differently, and there are clear differences between Christ and the Church. I will attempt to summarise these differences below, while still highlight that each is living for the other, but I’m leaving out important aspects. For example, to maintain relevance to relationships between men and women, I am not mentioning some important things like Christ’s divinity. So:

  • Christ is the responsible spiritual leader who takes initiative to inspire, motivate, guide, nurture, care for, serve, and build the church into a ‘glorious bride’. As the ‘head’, He chooses to live for the body.
  • The Church is the loyal spiritual follower that responds with love, praise, honour, respect and devotion because of for His love for the church. The church finds its fulfilling purpose in serving and glorifying Christ, for the church is inspired (by Christ) to live for the ‘head’.

Now I cannot help but comment that these ‘roles’ fit rather well with how I observe men and women to show love for each other. Men seem good at showing love by caring for and doing things for (and with) their wives, and wives seem good at showing love by praising and encouraging and supporting their husbands for what they do. Men feel loved by their wives when they are praised and supported and encouraged, while (I think) women feel loved when their husbands take initiative to serve and care and do things for them and with them.

Both live for each other, both serve each other and both are submitted to each other, but men and women differ in how they can best do these things. Yet, in that difference, lies incredible strength because it makes a cycle, where each inspire the other to greater love. The husband and wife form a circle that feeds itself on the love each other provide.

So, it seems that the man is the ‘spiritual head’ of the relationship. Note that this has little to do with 'who's boss', but everything to do with responsibility. In this capacity, he is the one to lead, guide, and take initiative with wisdom, discernment and love – to build up his wife into a great woman of God in all respects by sacrificing himself wholly for her benefit. By loving his wife in this way, he is loving himself because his wife will respond in love and the whole relationship will be strengthened. This ‘role’ fits with what men are good at.

The woman is of an equal importance, but it would not be out of place to describe her as a ‘helper’. By supporting and encouraging and praising her husband, putting him first in the relationship, he will naturally respond by loving her even more. So one could say that by loving her husband in this way, she is loving herself because the relationship will be strengthened. This role fits with what women are good at.

Thus, using a body as a metaphor for the relationship between man and woman is very suitable, for the head and body cannot survive independently, both are of equal importance, both serve the other, and both function in complete harmony with their design.

‘Headship’ therefore, could be viewed as ‘selfless responsibility to the body’, and likewise ‘submission’ could be termed ‘selfless worship of the head’. In using these words, I am unsuccessfully trying to encompass all the aspects of Christ and the Church in only a few words.

Biblical relationships, therefore, have nothing to do with 'who's boss', but all to do with willing sacrifice – both of the husband and wife. So, I think the bar is raised equally high for both men and women, and when both love each other in this way, 'authority' will not be an issue. Men are called sacrifice themselves in responsibility for their wives; women are called to sacrifice themselves in devotion to their husbands. Husbands give their lives for their wives (under God); wives give their lives to their husbands (under God) - both are different yet complimentary. There are many more complexities and overlaps beneath these statements, but I think they capture the essence. Both are different expressions of the same thing – sacrificial love.

Edited last paragraph in light of comments, 21/10/04.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

The fallacy of the satisfaction theory of Atonement


It is incredible that the church maintains a belief that is as clearly unbiblical as the satisfaction theory of the atonement. Having described the classical ‘Christus Victor’ idea held by the church for the first 1000 years in my last post, I thought it fitting to outline why the satisfactory models of the atonement are a significantly warped view of the atonement. This warping is to such an extent that I would suggest satisfactory theories are misleading, unbiblical, untrue, and illogical, as will here endeavour to outline.

A typical version of the satisfaction theory is given in the popular ‘penal substitution’ model, summarised by C.S. Evans as:

Human beings have sinned against God and thereby incurred a debt that demands everlasting punishment. God is both just and merciful. In his mercy he wishes to forgive human beings and not punish them, but his justice does not allow this. God resolves this problem by becoming a human being himself, and suffering the pain and death of crucifixion, as a substitute for the punishment we humans deserve. Since God is infinitely good, his death is an adequate payment for the infinite debt sinful humans owe. Since the debt has now been paid, a just God can offer forgiveness. When we humans respond in faith to Jesus, then God accepts the sufferings of Jesus as a payment for our sin.

Now, let us get past the theology and put this in plain language to reveal the true nature of this theory:

You have broken the law because it is impossible to keep it, and so you must have broken it. And because you cannot keep this impossible-to-keep law you will be punished forever because "the penalty for sin is death" and those are just the rules. God must have blood because ‘the Law’ requires it; there must be a penalty paid. The only payment that would have been enough is sacrificing someone who was the "perfect law-keeper", someone who could live a perfect life without sin. So God decided to kill his own Son on the cross to appease his legal need for blood. Now that Jesus has been sacrificed God is no longer mad at us for not doing what we can't do anyway, so we can now come and live with him forever - as long as we are grateful to him for his "mercy" to us.

Adapted from Derek Flood

And let me give you another illustration of the satisfactory model:

There was a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, "Father, give me my share of the estate." So the father divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son went off to a distant country, squandered all he had in wild living, and ended up feeding pigs in order to survive. Eventually he returned to his father, saying, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me one of your hired servants." But his father responded: "I cannot simply forgive you for what you have done, not even so much as to make you one of my hired men. You have insulted my honor by your wild living. Simply to forgive you would be to trivialize sin; it would be against the moral order of the entire universe. For “nothing is less tolerable in the order of things than for a son to take away the honor due to his father and not make recompense for what he takes away.” Such is the severity of my justice that reconciliation will not be made unless the penalty is utterly paid. My wrath--my avenging justice--must be placated.'"

"But father, please..." the son began to plead.

"No," the father said, "either you must be punished or you must pay back, through hard labor for as long as you shall live, the honor you stole from me."

Then the elder brother spoke up. "Father, I will pay the debt that he owes and endure your just punishment for him. Let me work extra in the field on his behalf and thereby placate your wrath." And it came to pass that the elder brother took on the garb of a servant and labored hard year after year, often long into the night, on behalf of his younger brother. And finally, when the elder brother died of exhaustion, the father's wrath was placated against his younger son and they lived happily for the remainder of their days.

R Collins

You’ll recognise this as a perverted story of the Prodigal Son and the Loving Father, and rightly so, for the satisfactory model perverts the character of God and His dealings with us.

So, allow me to discuss why I reject the satisfactory model…

It is historically unsound

1. It is not what the church believed for the first 1000 years.

Arguably, this is a rather convincing reason in itself. The theory of ‘satisfaction’ was based on ideas from the Latin legal system, which had little – if anything – in common with the views of the early Fathers

2. It was criticised almost immediately when it was suggested

Abelard, among others, condemned the theory when it was first suggested. There have been a long string of Christians who have rejected the doctrine throughout its history. While the alternative theories suggested were typically also flawed because they were not the classical view of the early church either, the point was the recognised the fallacy of the satisfaction view.

3. Given their writings, it is inconceivable that the early church Fathers believed it – or indeed would have. Thus it is not likely the apostles believed it, and if they did not believe it, it is unlikely Jesus Himself taught it.

The early Fathers did not consider the atonement being a legal matter, but a victory. God is not viewed as making a legal transaction or being ‘appeased’, but rather He is the one doing the atonement – choosing to descend in Christ to reveal His love to us, that sin and death might be overcome. Where the satisfaction theories use terms shared by the Fathers, the meaning behind the words is significantly different.

4. The idea of a physical sacrifice appeasing God is a pagan concept

There is considerable literature on the use of human sacrifice in pagan rituals, from ancient times even until modern times. Rather than appeasing God or indeed influencing His treatment of people in any way, Biblical sacrifices were to bring people to repentance. Because of this repentance, and in keeping with His nature, God forgives their sin and accepts them as they return in their hearts to Him.

Certainly, God is not concerned with the physical nature of sacrifices (Isa 1:11,13,16-17, Hosea 6:6, Mat 9:13), and it defies logic that the mere shedding of blood would appease any form of righteous anger. Rather, God looks at the heart, and it is not the physical fruit, meat, or blood that He values, but the ‘broken and contrite heart’ (Psa 51:16-17). Furthermore, there are numerous Scriptural instances of God not accepting sacrifices because of the heart it was offered it – again exemplifying that He values the heart, not the physical.

Because of its shockingly physical nature, sacrifice had a profound emotional and spiritual impact on the one making it. In the words of Jewish Rabbi Nachum Braverman;

"You rest your hands on its head and you confess the mistake you made. Then you slaughter the cow. It's butchered in front of you. The blood is poured on the altar. The fat is put on the altar to burn. How do you feel? (Don't say disgusted.) I'll tell you how you feel. You feel overwhelmed with emotion, jarred by the confrontation you've just had with death, and grateful to be alive. You've had a catharsis. The cow on the altar was a vicarious offering of yourself"

Furthermore, as will be later explained (#14), the concept of God's attitude toward sin being 'appeased' is contradictory with the nature of God's love and sin itself.

It contradicts the nature of God’s grace

5. The necessity for ‘satisfaction’ is unbiblical

There is no teaching that a satisfaction is necessary in the Bible. Certainly, the work of Christ is described as an ‘atoning sacrifice’ in a general sense. However, to the early church this phrase did not carry a connotation of satisfaction, but of liberation through death. This word for ‘atonement’ is literally an ‘exchange’. In the Greco-Roman culture of the time, this phrase was used of someone who would forego their own life so that their family, city or people would be saved. Thus, the emphasis is on saving and liberation – not in satisfaction.

There is no Biblical justification as to why God Himself would require payment for sins. Indeed, God often forgoes punishment in several instances – and instead is merciful to whom He pleases. Any discipline God may give is purely for the benefit of people – not to ‘satisfy His need for justice’. What is more, satisfaction theory tends to be used to support a disturbingly legalistic view of the ‘justice’ of God. God is not portrayed as loving, but as an unreasonable tyrant.

6. It portrays a God who does not forgive, but merely administers legal ‘justice’

Satisfaction models rely on God needing to ‘uphold moral justice’, and implies it is ‘unjust’ to forgive and therefore not possible for God. Thus, under a satisfaction model, our sins are not actually forgiven at all – for God merely balances them with ‘appropriate’ and ‘just’ punishment. To suggest that this ‘balancing the accounts’ is the essence of grace and kindness would be to undermine the nature of grace and kindness in the Bible, and in the light of common sense.

Thus if sin is ‘satisfied’ – it is not truly forgive at all. Yet, this idea completely contradicts Scripture! To give some of the many possible examples:

- We are not to count man's wrongs against us and God does not count our wrongs against Him (1 Corinthians 13:5)

- Scriptures declare that God "does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities" (Psa. 103:10, NIV)

- The thief next to Jesus at Calvary (Luk 23:43)

- God’s grace to Nineveh

Clearly, then, the satisfaction model is entirely at odds with the true grace of God. Yet, as Paul so clearly writes, God has commanded His love toward us (Rom 5:8), and we are not under law, but grace (Rom 6:14).

7. Satisfaction theory attempts to preserve God’s legal sense of ‘justice’ and ‘honour’ – and yet in Christ He showed forgiveness is not about ‘justice’, but about grace, and honour is not about keeping the law, but about love.

Christ Himself taught of how ‘unjust’ God’s mercy is in the parable of the hired labourers (Mat 20:1-16). Likewise, God’s honour is considered to be upheld by a satisfaction-based atonement, and in Jesus, God was humiliated, unjustly treated, and mocked.

It is logically unsound

8. It’s senseless

Imagine that you went to visit a friend who owned a park and it cost 5 dollars to gain admittance. The friend tells you that you don't have to pay that, he the owner of the park will pay for you. So he takes 5 dollars out of his pocket and then puts it in his other pocket.

This is largely what the ‘satisfaction’ model leads to – God satisfying Himself. It is meaningless, for the point of the whole atonement is God laying aside our sin and ‘drawing near’ (that’s the Hebrew phrase for ‘sacrifice’, incidentally) to us.

More than meaningless, it is senseless, for it implies that God essentially punishes Himself instead of giving us punishment we ‘deserve’ for our sin. This is equivalent to suggesting the following story:

“The President (representing God) is walking down a street and suddenly is brutally mugged by several attackers (representing sin against Him). Fortunately, the police (representing God’s ‘justice’) apprehend the criminals. The police give the mugged President two options, either they imprison the offenders, or they will let them go if they are allowed to mug the President a second time. In His kindness to the offenders, the President agrees to be mugged a second time so that the offenders would not be punished.

Clearly, this is incredibly senseless, for many reasons. Primarily, the President (God) has authority over the police (His ‘justice’) and if He wanted to pardon the offenders, He could have simply granted them pardon. There is no need for Him to endure punishment for the offenders to be pardoned. There is no need for God to ‘beat himself up about it’!

9. Problems with Christ’s ‘punishment’

The early satisfaction view did not have the element of ‘punishment of our sins’, which developed largely in the 17th and 18th centuries. Rather, the sacrifice of Christ was seen as a perfect sacrifice because of Christ’s divinity and perfect nature – not because He endured ‘punishment equivalent to what we deserved’.

There are obvious difficulties with suggesting Christ’s punishment was in any way ‘equivalent’ to the punishment we deserve. If anything, any punishment inflicted on the Divine at all would carry far more weight than the punishment the world deserved – for it would be punishing the innocent. This in itself is completely unjust – and contradicts the attempts of the satisfactory model to have God maintaining ‘divine justice’.

Furthermore, the concept of a God who ‘must punish sin’ is arguably not in line with how God reveals Himself in the history of Scripture. Certainly, sometimes He disciples, but He plainly advocates forgiveness rather than ‘justice’ in the satisfactory sense of the word. One must also ask, “Why would God find satisfaction in the punishment of the innocent while the guilty are acquitted?”

However, even if one holds that Christ took our punishment in a literal and quantitative sense there are still difficulties. To seek to equate a certain quantitative punishment for sin is dubious, but then to suggest that Christ contained and endured the sum total of all such quantitative punishments earned by the human race is bordering on preposterous.

Rather, it makes more sense – if one chooses to hold a satisfactory idea – to think along Anselm’s original ideas of the imputation of merit. In this concept, Christ’s suffering was so meritorious, that there was surplus ‘merit’ (innocence, etc) that could be given to us. But this is unreasonable for the reason discussed in the following point…

10. Guilt or Innocence cannot be transferred

It is logically impossible to defend that guilt or innocence to be transferred from one person to another, maintaining the true meaning of guilt and innocence. Paying someone’s civil debt is one thing, but being imprisoned for someone else’s crime is quite another – it is travesty of justice. Sin should be considered in a criminal sense, not in the sense of merely financial debt.

Furthermore, the fact that someone else may do or be something particular does not change the fact that you did something. Nothing can change that, history cannot erase it, and God cannot pretend you did not do it. The guilt is firmly and unshakably connected to the guilty person. It is inconceivable that God would deceive Himself to consider a guilty person innocent.

In the sacrificial system, God clearly states that after making a sacrifice, ‘it will be forgiven’ of the person. The guilt remains firmly on the person sinning, but God states that He will ‘lay that guilt aside’. There is no suggestion that the guilt is transferred from the person to the sacrifice.

Scripture supports a common-sense view of justice, “Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty” (Exodus 23:7). "Every man shall be put to death for his own sin.
(Deut 24:16). How could God Himself do something we, even as sinners, would see as blatantly unjust?

Theological Reasons

11. It is contradicted by Scripture

It would take far too much time to discuss all the verses. But, suffice to say, the satisfactory view does not account for all the passages – and indeed it is contradicted by several. Furthermore, the underlying truths presented in the Bible are at odds with the concepts of satisfaction.

12. It portrays God as sadistic

Satisfaction theory portrays God as being ‘satisfied by the spilling of blood and punishment’, as if it appeases his anger. It gives the impression that God is sadistic, and is pleased by inflicting suffering. Not only this, but it directly contrasts with a clearly stated characteristic of God, “God is Love”. Furthermore, God demonstrates this love in the person of Christ greater than ever before.

13. Satisfactory atonement is primarily achieved by the sacrifice of a ‘man’, and not purely from the heart of the Father

The satisfactory view intrinsically holds that atonement is what is done by a perfect man, the man of Jesus, governs how God treats people. The idea of Jesus being divine has secondary importance to the fact that he was a man – for the sacrifice of a man was required.

However, early church believed that God the Father choose of His own doing to be gracious to people – and He Himself was in the divine Christ to reveal His grace. His grace conquers sin and death because instead of people getting what they deserve, as the devil would want, God chooses to be gracious to us. Thus, the Father needs nothing to facilitate this grace, for in very nature it is unwarranted, and therefore the concept of requiring the work of Jesus to ‘warrant’ that grace contradicts its true nature.

The early Christians viewed God as the one drawing near to sinful people from His own initiative and of His own will, out of His grace. The concept that anything ‘man’ or even the man of Christ does could ‘bring people to God’ – or rather, bring God to people - is completely at odds with the early ideas. Rather, God ‘lowered Himself’ to people – and it is not because of anything apart from His grace that He does so. The idea that God’s grace must be ‘earned/obtained/justified’ by the work of Christ, the perfect man and therefore ‘sacrifice’, is in opposition with the Biblical concept held by the early church.

14. It misses the true gravity of sin and God's gracious love

While trying to give full weight to sin, the satisfaction theory fails to deal with its true gravity. This lack is because the satisfaction theory views the essence of the atonement as a change in God’s attitude toward sin, rather than our liberation from it. So, instead of being our problem, sin is made out to be God’s problem. Satisfaction theory makes God’s attitude to sin central, instead of sin being our problem that we are freed from.

As a consequence of the satisfaction view, sin is something that can be ‘paid for’ – like a financial debt. Essentially, God can be ‘bought’, to deem our sin as ‘OK’ because the ‘price has been paid’. Satisfaction theory therefore suggests no change in the direct influence of sin upon us, and simply holds up ‘eternal life’ as being the prime objective of atonement.

By contrast, in the classical view, we are damaged and harmed by personal and intra-personal sin, because sin is inherently destructive and enslaving. Sin is our problem, not God’s, and He does not hate it in and of itself, but He hates it because it damages us. Thus, the mere notion of God ‘changing His attitude to our sin’ is preposterous to the classical view, because His hate of sin flows naturally from His love for us. By being victorious over sin, God has freed us from it. Furthermore, God reveals in Christ that He will accept us, broken and damaged from sin, in spite of our faults and sinfulness. In the classical view, God lays aside (the literal meaning of ‘forgive’) our imperfect condition and accepts us anyway if our hearts are devoted to Him. God’s attitude toward sin does not change, it is not ‘appeased’, but rather His grace to us is revealed. Thus, in the classical idea, both the gravity of sin and God’s love and grace are given far more weight.

15. Satisfaction holds that God must maintain ‘justice’ – and cannot truly be gracious. Thus, He is ‘ruled’ by the need for cosmic justice.

Such a statement, which places God under the authority of some higher legal ‘justice’ is clearly at odds with the very nature of God. In the same way as that of the story of the President above, it is well within God’s power to truly forgive. If He wants to forgive, He needn’t find any way to make it judicially ‘just’ – He can simply forgive.

In fact, Biblical, Godly ‘justice’ does not have a judicial sense, but a relational one. Biblical justice embodies the state or the restoration of a right relationship, and has little to do with legal or judicial ideas.

16. The perfect and innocent Christ did not deserved ‘punishing’ – and therefore God would in fact be doing evil to punish Him in any sense of the word

In seeking to ensure legal ‘justice’ is done, the satisfaction model blatantly breaks justice in the worst way. It is one thing for sinful people to wrongly punish an innocent person, but quite another for a righteous God to punish a perfect and innocent Christ! Clearly, it is wrong to punish an innocent person, so why should we make exception with Christ?

17. By insisting that there must be payment for sin, the satisfaction theory implies that God demands ‘a tooth for a tooth, and an eye for an eye’

The satisfaction theory depicts God as demanding an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Exod.21:24). Exact repayment for the damaged one appears to be dearest to God. Yet Jesus completely contradicts such a view, telling us to be gracious and forgiving (see Matt. 5:38-48). Surely God does not deal with us according to a different standard than the one He teaches Himself!

In 1 Corinthians 13:5 Paul declares that love "keeps no record of wrongs" yet the satisfaction model has God carefully keep the score and require exact compensation. The theory of atonement based on law and explained by law too closely resembles a commercial transaction in which the scales of debt and repayment must exactly balance. It tends to transform God's love into coldly-calculating cosmic accounting.

18. It separates the Father and the Son

In contrast to the ideas of the early church Fathers, the satisfactory model presents God as somehow separate to the Son. They did not picture Jesus as doing anything to change the Father’s mind or relation with people – rather Jesus was of the same mind as the Father – being His logos and image. The Father and Son were therefore unified in purpose and thoughts throughout the whole Incarnation – and indeed it was God in His entirety that not only initiated, but also made the atonement. Needless to say, the concept of the Son changing the Father’s mind is senseless – for to the church Fathers, this would have been equivalent to saying God persuaded Himself to change His own mind.

19. It’s scope is limited to the death of Christ, and the Incarnation and resurrection of Christ have little place

The satisfaction model gives no place to the life and resurrection of Christ. These are, as it were, incidental to the major atoning work. While it is true the early church saw great significance on Christ’s death – the death of the Messiah – they always placed great emphasis on His resurrection. Furthermore, they also viewed His life, example, and teachings as greatly valuable.

What is more, is the Incarnation of God in the man of Christ is seen primarily as a means to make the perfect ‘atoning sacrifice’. The argument tends that no man is perfect, and therefore God had to become ‘in carne’ so that there would be a perfect man to make the perfect sacrifice. The significance of the incarnation therefore is predominantly centred on Christ’s death for our ‘atonement’, but even then is almost incidental to the actual atoning work.

In the Christus Victor idea, however, the Incarnation is inseparable to the atonement. Indeed, the Fathers viewed as central that it was God Himself who in Christ was reconciling the world to Himself. Thus, Christ’s Incarnation, life, death, and resurrection are all an intrinsic part of God’s victory to liberate us from sin, death, and the devil – which constitutes the church Fathers’ primary understanding of the atonement.

It lessens the power of the Good News

20. It makes the ‘Good News’ the ‘not-so-Good-News’:

Robin Collins laid out this argument:

Consider starving children in Africa. What is the Gospel message of the Penal and Satisfaction theory to them? "Even though most of your life you have been starving, and your brain barely functions, and you have been abused by others who have killed your parents, raped you, and deprived you of food, you are guilty before God and deserving of eternal punishment and torment in Hell. In fact, the torment you have endured all your life is infinitely less than you actually deserve. But I have good news for you! God has paid the penalty for your sins! He has endured the infinite punishment...."

Does this message sound like it brings life? Hardly! It brings condemnation and the idea that we should consider ourselves fortunate for escaping the punishment we actually still deserve. What’s more, is instead of portraying a loving God who is gracious and merciful – a God who inspires love by loving – it portrays an unfair, sadistic, mentally deranged cosmic lunatic. I know which one I would rather love.

21. It undermines the real sense of the goodness of God by making God simply following the law

In the satisfactory model, the ‘goodness’ of God is no longer clear. Far from being a gracious God who pardons of His own free-will, He is simply an objective, impartial law-keeper, with little emotion toward people and certainly no room for compassion. This Judge merely gives us what has been ‘earned’ for us – as if God now owes a debt to us by granting eternal life.

Scripture teaches that love is not illustrated by giving someone what is earned, but in giving someone what is not earned. What is ‘good’ about maintaining a system of accounts, and doing away with the real sense of grace?

Adherents to the satisfaction model would point to God’s ‘grace’ at sending the Son to ‘earn’ our acceptance by God. But I would again point to the story of the President, who needn’t do anything except pardon – for it is his authority to do so. Suggesting God must ‘pull cosmic strings’ to grant us forgiveness is to dull His love for us, and makes God’s grace seem less good, and more like we just slip in through the gate opened to us by Christ. Satisfaction theory makes it seem God has not really forgiven us, but has just stretched the rules of the cosmos and lowered His standards to let sinners into heaven.

22. Instead of the atonement being victorious Good News, it takes on a negative connotation

So, satisfactory theory suggests that instead of being punished by God, we are ‘let off the hook’. Emphasis is always placed on the infinite punishment that we deserve, and the entirety of Christ’s work is portrayed as removing that punishment. Far from being an intrinsic part of the atonement, the hope of eternal life is simply an added bonus because we aren’t punished.

Thus, the satisfactory view has a very negative aspect to it – far form the victorious element of Christ’s work that clearly dominated the minds of the early church. Far from our salvation coming from Good News, it is through a Narrow Escape from a sentence we actually aren’t rightly freed from.

23. It reduces the atonement to a formula – a rationalised theory – and in doing so it destroys the power of the Gospel and does not prompt people to follow God

There is arguably far more power in the raw, passionate story of Christ’s Victory (Christus Victor) than in the dry, legal transaction of the satisfactory model. The confusing satisfactory model quite rightly leaves non-believers with more questions than answers, and does not posses the same power on the heart as the classical idea. In many cases, the nonsensically legal satisfactory model merely gives more reasons for the non-Christian to reject the faith. Therefore, it is questionable that it is a healthy concept to portray to non-Christians, especially in light of the more sensible, powerful, and biblical idea of Christus Victor.

24. It is a finished event in the past, and thus omits the place of the Holy Spirit and the on-going atonement of people to God

The satisfactory theory completely omits the part of the Holy Spirit and indeed the church in the on-going atonement of people to God. According to the satisfactory view, the atonement is finished and complete – and we have no further part in ‘the atonement’. The church Fathers, in contrast, would have viewed Christ as beginning the victory over sin and death and the devil that we are commissioned to continue. Thus, Christ empowers us to quite literally continue to do His work on earth. This important element is missing from the satisfactory model.


In contrast to the satisfaction theory, Christus Victor unites all aspects of the Incarnation, Christ’s work, death, resurrection, and the roles of the Holy Spirit and the church. Furthermore, the victorious power of the Christus Victor idea is lacking in the negative satisfactory theory. In light of all these problems with satisfaction-based atonement, it is difficult to understand why one would not believe the Christus Victor idea that is historical, logical, in harmony with Scripture and the nature of God, and gives the Gospel a far greater meaning, significance, and value.

Edited 11/10/04 – completely re-typed
Edited 13/10/04 - re-wrote #14 according to the paradigm shift in the nature of sin and God's attitude to it revealed in Andrew's comment.