The word atonement, constructed from at and one, means "to set at one" or "to reconcile." In Christian theology, atonement denotes the doctrine of the reconciliation of God and man accomplished by the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. There have been three major theories of atonement: the ransom theory, the Anselmian theory, and the Abelardian theory. The ransom theory, first propounded by Origen (c.185-254), was developed from Mark 10:45 and explained the atonement as a price paid by God in Christ to the devil. Saint Anselm (c.1033-1109) explained the atonement as an act of satisfaction paid by Christ as man to God, who demanded from man perfect obedience to the law, which he could not fulfill because of his sinfulness. The exemplarist theory of Peter Abelard (1079-1142) viewed Christ's death as an inspiring appeal of love evoking in the sinner a response of love, thus removing his sin.
Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other Reformers developed the Anselmian theory in the direction of penal substitution. Liberal theologians have reverted to an Abelardian type of explanation. Gustav Aulen and other Swedish theologians have recently advocated a return to the ransom theory conceived in terms of victory over the powers of evil.
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Dillistone, Frederick W., The Christian Understanding of Atonement (1968); Feenstra, R., and Plantinga, C., Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement (1990); Hengel, Martin, The Atonement, trans. by John Bowden (1981); White, Vernon, Atonement and Incarnation (1991).
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