Nature of the Atonement:
How Should One View the Cross? Part 1
THE WORD OF FAITH MOVEMENT AND THE RANSOM-TO-SATAN AND
RECAPITULATION VIEWS OF CHRISTíS ATONEMENT
The word "atonement" in theology designates all
that Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross through His suffering
and death. So when one inquires about the atonement of Christ, he is
asking about specific topics in theology which have several major
points that must be discussed if one wants a comprehensive answer.
The forthcoming articles in this series will briefly evaluate the nature
of the atonement by surveying many of the views espoused by men in
church history. These views not only fit the past but often surface
in the present. The importance in understanding and knowing the
correct view of the nature of Christís atonement is crucial if we
are to be clear on one of the major doctrines of the Christian
faith. The sharper the focus of our understanding of the atonement,
the better will be our proclamation of the gospel and discernment of
any error concerning the atonement. Since we live in an age with a
shallow understanding of doctrinal issues, it behooves us to again
study the nature of the atonement.
THE RANSOM-TO-SATAN VIEW OF THE ATONEMENT
This view of the atonement is usually attributed to Origen
of Alexandria as the champion of the fully-developed theory. Origen
(A.D. 184-254) had several different views on the atonement and he
never combined them into a synthetic system. Therefore, he left us
confused as exactly what he thought was the stress of the atonement.
Scripture does state that Christís death delivered His people from
the power of Satan, but Origen introduced a new idea. "Christ
offered Himself as a ransom to Satan, and Satan accepted the ransom
without realizing that he would not be able to retain his hold on
Christ because of the latterís divine power and holiness. Satan
swallowed the bait of Christís humanity, and was caught on the
hook of His divinity. Thus the souls of all menóeven of those in
hadesówere set free from the power of Satan" (Louis Berkhof, The
History of Christian Doctrines, p.166). This stress of the
atonement disappeared for lack of biblical support. However, the
Word of Faith Movement (WFM) has revived this view. Kenneth Hagin,
Kenneth Copeland and other WFM leaders have expressed in their
teachings a form of this view of atonement. Combine Origenís
Ransom-to-Satan view with Irenaeusí Recapitulation View of the
atonement and one has captured Hagin and Copelandís view of
THE RECAPITULATION VIEW OF THE ATONEMENT
Irenaeus of Lyons (flourished in A.D. 175-95) expressed
the idea of the atonement as a satisfaction of Godís justice, but
the modus operandi by which Christ purchased the atonement
was through recapitulation. In other words, "by His incarnation
and human life he thus reverses the course on which Adam by his sin
started humanity and thus becomes a new leaven in the life of
mankind. He communicates immortality to those who are united to him
by faith and effects an ethical transformation in their lives, and
by his obedience compensates for the disobedience of Adam" (Berkhof,
The History of Christian Doctrines, p. 165).
Irenaeus (as well as others) rejected the Ransom-to-Satan
view and adopted more of a penal satisfaction view, but the
atonement was brought about through his recapitulation view.
Irenaeus was not the only one to espouse a penal satisfaction view
of the atonement. Other men like Athanasius (A.D. 296-373), Cyril of
Alexandria (A.D. 376-444), Gregory of Nazianzus (A.D. 330-390) and
Augustine (A.D. 354-430) believed in it. However, the greatest
development of the nature of the atonement was found in Anselm*
(A.D. 1033-1109) and continued through the Protestant Reformation in
the 1500ís. "Irenaeus conceives of Christís work in
restoring to man his immortality by the infusion of the divine life
and by the destruction of death. This renewal of man Christ has
accomplished by reason of who he was and what he did. In this way
Irenaeus unites in Christís redeeming work the whole action of his
life as the Word incarnate, and of his death as divine
Redeemer" (H. D. McDonald, The Atonement of the Death of
Christ, p. 127). It was this infusion of the divine life that
the WFM has in common with the Recapitulation view of the atonement
THE WORD OF FAITH MOVEMENT VIEW OF THE ATONEMENT
The WFM teachers contend that Jesus took upon himself a
satanic nature, died physically on the cross, suffered spiritual
death in hell for us, and then was reborn (or born again) in hell
and rose from the grave. Therefore, when the believer is born again
he becomes like Christ. Copeland has detailed his view that Christ
was born again in hell:
Satan didnít know what he was getting into. He thought he had
Jesus conquered. He didnít realize the whole thing was a mystery
hidden in God before the world began. He didnít know God had set
a trap for him.
But he soon found out. Because right in the middle of it all,
when Jesusí tortured, poured out spirit was down in the bottom
of the pit, suddenly something happened. Almighty God began to
Godís Word ripped down through the locked gate of hell and
raised Jesus up, "Come sit on My right hand till I make Your
enemies Your footstool!" That Word of the living God went
down into that pit of destruction and charged the spirit of Jesus
with resurrection power!
Suddenly His twisted, death-wracked spirit began to fill out
and come back to life. He began to look like something the devil
had never seen before. He was literally being reborn before the
devilís very eyes ("Price of it all." Believerís
Voice of Victory, September 1991, p. 4).
Toward the end of the same article Copeland said:
Jesus was the first man ever born from death into the life and
righteousness of God. He was raised up a born-again man and He
defeated Satan in the midst of hell itself....
Do you hear what Iím telling you? Jesus was born againóthe
firstborn from the dead the Word calls Himóand He whipped the
devil in his own backyard (p. 6).
Copeland has made the parallel between Christ and the
believer being born again:
That same life that raised Jesus from the dead raised you from
the dead. Even when we were dead in sins, hath (He) quickened
us (or made us alive) together with Christ (Eph. 2:5).
Jesus was born again; you were born again in Him. The same glory,
the same measure of faith, was injected into your spirit when you
said with your mouth, "Jesus, I receive You" (Walking
in the realm of the miraculous, p. 78).
Before the writer engages in a refutation of the exegesis
and theology of the WFMís view of Christís atonement, it is
important to assert that there are a multitude of verses in
Scripture which clearly emphasize the adequacy and sufficiency of
Jesusí suffering physically on the cross (not spiritually after
the cross in hell) for our sins to procure our salvation. In my next
article I will begin a critique of the WFMís view of Christís
1. For a fuller survey of this view see H. D. McDonald, The
Atonement of the Death of Christ, pp. 126-30).
2. This view is explained in detail in my November 1999
article titled "Substitution."
3. W. G. T. Shedd, quotes Dorner (Person Christi)
on this point:
Justice, in the scheme of Irenaeus, stands between the physical
attributes of infinity, omnipotence, etc., and the ethical
attributes of compassion and love as a protector and watch. For this
reason, God will and can accomplish no work that is spiritual in a
merely physical manner; he must win over man by the manifestation of
that which is spiritual,óthat is, by the highest and fullest
possible exhibition of his love. But love is of two kinds, active
and passive; the former manifests itself by doing something to
its object, the latter by suffering something for it. The
highest and fullest manifestation of love would consequently include
the passive form of the affection, as well as the active form,óan
endurance namely, of suffering in behalf of the object of
benevolence, if suffering is necessary from the nature of the case.
But suffering is necessary from the nature of the case. But
suffering is absolutely necessary, because now that sin and guilt
have come into the world divine justice cannot be satisfied except
by penal infliction. Consequently the manifestation of the love of
God takes on a passive as well as active form, and vicariously bears
the penalty of guilt in the place of the criminal (Dogmatic
4. "Spiritual death means something more than
separation from God. Spiritual death also means having Satanís
nature" (Hagin, The Name of Jesus, p. 31). According
to Hagin, Jesusí physical death could not remove our sin. His
death must also be a spiritual death, being estranged from God in
our place (Hagin, The Name of Jesus, pp. 29-30; Hagin,
"Christ our substitute," The Word of Faith, April
1980, p. 2).
5. On October 30, 1992 Copelandís ministry faxed
Watchman Fellowship four pages of comments and proof texts, titled
"Jesus in Hell" which they have tried to prove their view
of Christís death.
After quoting Hebrews 2:9 Kenneth Hagin, Sr. said,
"Physical death would not remove our sins. He tasted death for
every manóspiritual death.
Jesus is the first person ever to be born again. Why did
His spirit need to be born again? Because it was estranged from
God" (The Name of Jesus, pp. 29-30).
6. Some of those verses are: Romans 3:21-25; 5:10, 18; 1
Corinthians 15:3-4; Galatians 3:13; Ephesians 2:11-13; Colossians
1:22; Hebrews 9:14; 10:10; 1 Peter 1:18-19; 2:24; 1 John 1:7.
Copyright 2006, Ankerberg Theological Research Institute