About Atonement..

One of the current foundations of the Christianity is the atonement. Generally that is thought to be Jesus taking the wrath of God for us with his substitutional crucifixion in order to appease God wrath toward man’s sinfulness.  I, like many others I’m sure, thought that atonement was a foundational issue with Jesus and the early church.  In reality it was post-Constantine theologians who gave us the doctrine of original sin and the blood atonement, the belief that Jesus came to earth solely for the purpose of dying for our sins, was a doctrine not fully developed in the church until the tenth century.  It was almost upsetting to me to learn this fact since so many of my inherited beliefs hinged on it.

We all like to think that the things we are told to believe about Jesus  were actually established by him.  In reality the idea of atonement was not settled until centuries after his death. Yes, Jesus mentioned here and there about dying for us but I don’t now believe it was ever a central theme. Even the concept of man’s innate sinfulness is still a matter for disagreements.  Are we born bad and must be saved, as some assert, or are we born good, as others maintain, but have forgotten where we came from, where we are going, and to whom we belong? Was the death of Jesus on the cross necessary for the salvation of the world or was he here for other, or maybe additional. purposes?

Many think that if we disregard sacrificial atonement then we must throw Christianity out the window as Jesus’ death meant nothing.  To those the idea of universal salvation is pure heresy. But to others, like Philip Gulley it meant no such thing.  They believe that while it was unnecessary for God to come in the form of Jesus to kill himself, Jesus’ time on earth was to among other things to teach us how to live and how to love. While that purpose is very encompassing he also physically conquered death by his resurrection. That is no small thing!

Sacrificial atonement is something that I have always had trouble understanding. Why would God need to take on another form and kill himself to satisfy is own wrath?  Robin Meyers in his book entitled “The Underground Church” stated:

It is no coincidence that it took as long for the idea of the blood atonement to be fully formed as it took for Christians artists to begin to show us an image of the corpse of Jesus hanging on a cross.

No dead Jesus for a thousand years. This is not to say that the suffering of Jesus is unimportant; indeed it bears witness to the depth of his capacity to Love

It is not widely acknowledged in many Christian churches just how unresolved the issue of atonement is. It continues to be widely discussed even today.

5 thoughts on “About Atonement..

  1. You need to check out author Bart Ehrman. He has written many books about Christianity that you might find enlightening…look on Amazon.


  2. RJ-

    Totally agree with this post. However based on a recent previous post I have a question…

    your recent post stated that you think that every 400 years or so we should revisit the history around the Bible and make updates and revisions. Presumably this would be done to verify or revise current theology. It appears from that post you think that the Bible in not the “final word” – you actually say that.

    But in this post you seem to take issue with the fact that the atonement theology took 1000 years to evolve. As if this somehow indicates it is not “Biblical”. So this seems to me to contradict your idea that it is ok for the theology to evolve over time – as new insights come to light or as the Biblical history is revisited.

    So which is it? Is it ok for new theology to be discovered (as the atonement theology seems to have done) or does the theology have to be “in the Bible from the beginning”?

    Or do I misunderstand something?



    1. Thanks for the thoughts and questions. Looking back at it I can understand your question. If you ask almost any Christian about atonement I’m sure you will get the statement that it comes from Jesus or maybe the 12 apostles. Most would be very surprised that it took almost a thousand years to be dogma. They think everything that they are told to believe comes from the very early period of the church but in reality a good bit of it was invented, sometimes much later.

      The four hundred year thing was more satirical than anything. I didn’t really mean it literally. It took that long to turn Paul’s rules into dogma. I went on from there to challenge them to see that the Bible is a human document, it did not fall from heaven. I have come to believe that Jesus if he intended to found a new church, which many say he didn’t, he put down some simple rules for it and then Paul came along and made everything complicated. Then theologian after theologian continued to pile up more rules after him.

      Simply speaking, we need to get back to the simplicity of Jesus’ message and recognize most of the other stuff was invented by men.
      Hope my additional comments here help…


  3. Cannot tell from your previous writings exactly what you think about Jesus. I don’t think you accept the idea of the Trinity. You include the many quotes that seem to indicate that Jesus does not see himself as God, but at least once you say that “Jesus is God”. Because it is something I have never quite resolved for myself I wondered what you thought. I finally just decided that He has a special and unique relationship to God and was somehow divine but that I would never understand it and that I did not have to understand in order to follow him. But I still wonder.


    1. Thanks for the thoughts Judy. I think your last sentence is very close to my thoughts also. I don’t think Jesus had it in his mind to create a completely different church but that is what happened. Jesus’ messages to us are quite clear, to love each other and to love God. As he said everything else is secondary. Yes, I am a devout follower of Jesus but I no longer call myself a Christian as that word has been tarnished too much especially in our times. If only we could all just live by his messages we would have had world peace for the last twenty centuries. If I HAD to choose a religious belief it would be Quakers I guess.


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