The satisfaction theory was first articulated by Anselm. Anselm rejected the idea that the Satan had a legal right to humanity that God must pay (as the ransom theory argues). Anselm proposed instead that that humanity owes a debt to God because of our sin. To appease God’s honor, this debt must be repaid. However, humanity is unable to pay it. Understanding this, Jesus fully paid the debt on our behalf through his suffering and death on the cross. Jesus was able to fulfill this role because he became human as us, yet lived a perfect life. Thus he was uniquely able to satisfy God’s demand.
Penal Substitution Theory
The penal substitution theory is similar to satisfaction theory. It was proposed by John Calvin and other Protestant reformers. Instead of focusing on God’s honor, it focuses on God’s justice. This theory states that Jesus died on the cross as a substitute for mankind, taking our place. God imputed our sin to Jesus, and imputed the righteousness of Jesus to us.
Most conservative Christians hold to the satisfaction view. This includes Catholics, Reformed, and many Arminians.
Criticisms of Satisfaction / Substitution
- Some think that God ought to be able to forgive without requiring repayment.
- It seems counter intuitive to punish the innocent and release the guilty.
- If our debt has already been paid, does this give is a license to continue sinning?
Verses Used to Advocate
- God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. –2 Corinthians 5:21
- Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” -Galations 3:13
- God presented [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Romans 3:25,26
- We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. -Isaiah 53:6
Examples in music and literature:
- Nothing but the Blood of Jesus (Robert Lowry) What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
- Peace Child (Don Richardson) A missionary tells a story about a primitive tribe where the chief gives his son to his enemies to bring peace.