Dr. Wayne Grudem on Atonement

Collectively speaking, the historic pre-schism doctrine of atonement is that of Christ dying for us as a ransom and a sacrifice, a “new Adam,” so as to make living what had been lost prior to the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden. We can see this throughout the Bible, including the writings of St. Paul and Christ Himself. It was not until well into the Middle Ages that Western schismatic Christians began to formulate and dogmatize the doctrine of what they call “penal substitution.”

This doctrine involves taking the salvific teachings of the Bible, as well as the Fathers, and twisting them into a legal format. Many Protestant teachers today speak as if this legal doctrine of penal substitution has always been the norm. One very popular teacher, Dr. Wayne Grudem, says this in regards to penal substitution:

“To say that God can forgive sins without requiring any penalty (in spite of the fact that throughout Scripture sin always requires the payment of a penalty) is seriously to underestimate the absolute character of the justice of God.”

Grudem is either not very studied in the Fathers or is not being very honest with himself here. On the previous page in Grudem’s book Systematic Theology, Grudem slams the historic position of Christ dying as a ransom and goes as far as stating that it is not found in Scripture and has few supporters in the history of the Church. This is so completely false! Jaroslav Pelikan, who is referred to by both Protestant and Orthodox Christians as a hallmark to historic theology, says this in regards to what is referred to as the “ransom theory”:

“So great was the emphasis in the soteriology of many church fathers that the definition of salvation through Christ’s victory over man’s enemies has been called “the classic” theory of atonement…but Christ as victor was more important in the orthodox expositions of salvation and reconciliation than Western dogmatics has recognized” (The Christian Tradition, A History of the Development of Doctrine – 100-600 A.D., p. 149).

I really cannot understand why so many Christian teachers insist on teaching this legalistic doctrine of penal substitution. It does not liberate one from the power of Satan whatsoever. It appears to do so only because the doctrine itself creates a hero of itself by pushing humanity into the fire and then attempting to rescue it. It overemphasizes the Fall of Man by nearly making man out to be some type of demon and insisting that God hates all who are not “saved” and that God wants to kill them. The doctrine goes on to teach that Christ took the punishment upon Himself, that God killed Jesus. God killed Jesus? Think about that!

Christ was not God’s punching bag, He was Satan’s punching bag. It was Satan that initiated the crucifixion of Christ, believing that Christ’s death would allow him to triumph over God’s people. As St. Paul says, Christ is our “ransom.” The devil took him as a ransom and now the devil no longer has God’s people in bondage. The New Covenant has destroyed the power of the devil (1 John) and has given us new life in Christ, victory over the powers of darkness. This is what it means to have faith in Christ! We have faith that Christ liberated us from the power of the devil, who is the author of sin.

If churches would begin to understand that Christ is our scapegoat, our ransom, they could truly believe that the devil has no authority over them and begin to live this belief. They may say, “oh yes, I believe that, just look at this Bible verse or look at this (modern) doctrine.” But these modern doctrines do not liberate. In fact, the modern doctrines seem to place people in a type of bondage. Again, the modern doctrines place a heavy burden of guilt upon the Christian and then theological heroes come to save the day with their doctrines of so-called “Justification” and “Penal Substitution.”

When one believes that all they have been liberated from is the fact that God is no longer going to pour His eternal wrath of hell on them, the Christian loses sight of just how God blesses them in this life, just how God IS saving us; how He is blessing us daily through the power of His salvation. In Orthodox theology, God saves us daily through His redemption. We become more and more enraptured in His love as each day goes by, some faster than others, yet all progressively. The liberating power of God’s atonement in Orthodox theology becomes a living reality rather than an abstract truth. One does not have to “preach” the doctrine of justification to ones self, as many Protestants teach. In the Orthodox faith, life is much more of healing process than it is an indoctrination program.


  1. The “penalty for sin” in their view is to be seperated from the presence of God and his manifold graces and then to be tormented (tortured?) eternally in hell. How could the second Person of the Blessed Trinity be seperated, cut off and damned? This would amount to schism in the Trinity, or polytheism (two gods) or nestorianism (two persons in Christ). Some gnostics and Paul of Samasota taught that the Logos departed from Jesus on the Cross…this is grossly heretical. Instead of saving us from the devil, sin and death (Heb. 2:14 & 1 Jn. 3:8), Christ primarily saves us from His own irate Father. The Gnostics also believed that Christ saved them the cruel exacting hands of the Old Testament God of law and judgment.

    In Ps. 22, where the Crucifixion is laid out prophetically, it says this:

    For He hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted One; neither hath he hid his face from Him; but when He cried unto Him, He heard.

    Doesn’t quite sound like hatred to me…

    St. Athanasius the Great: Whence neither can the Lord be forsaken by the Father, who is ever in the Father, both before He spoke, and when He uttered this cry. Nor is it lawful to say that the Lord was in terror, at whom the keepers of hell’s gates shuddered and set open hell, and the graves did gape, and many bodies of the saints arose and appeared to their own people. Therefore be every heretic dumb, nor dare to ascribe terror to the Lord whom death, as a serpent, flees, at whom demons tremble, and the sea is in alarm; for whom the heavens are rent and all the powers are shaken. For behold when He says, ‘Why have You forsaken Me?’ the Father showed that He was ever and even then in Him; for the earth knowing its Lord who spoke, straightway trembled, and the veil was rent, and the sun was hidden, and the rocks were torn asunder, and the graves, as I have said, did gape, and the dead in them arose; and, what is wonderful, they who were then present and had before denied Him, then seeing these signs, confessed that ‘truly He was the Son of God. (Four Discourses Against the Arians, Discourse III)

    St. Gregory Nazianzus: And thus, He Who subjects presents to God that which He has subjected, making our condition His own. Of the same kind, it appears to me, is the expression, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? It was not He who was forsaken either by the Father, or by His own Godhead, as some have thought, as if It were afraid of the Passion, and therefore withdrew Itself from Him in His sufferings (for who compelled Him either to be born on earth at all, or to be lifted up on the Cross?). But as I said, He was in His own Person representing us. For we were the forsaken and despised before, but now by the Sufferings of Him Who could not suffer, we were taken up and saved. Similarly, He makes His own our folly and our transgressions; and says what follows in the Psalm, for it is very evident that the Twenty-first Psalm refers to Christ. (Fourth Theological Oration,” 30.5, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XXXVI, col. 109A).

    Amen. Amen. Amen. I believe, I believe, I believe and confess to the last breath, that this is the life-giving body that your only-begotten Son, our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ took from our lady, the lady of us all, the holy Theotokos Saint May. He made it one with his divinity without mingling, without confusion and without alteration. He witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate. He gave it up for us upon the holy wood of the cross, of his own will, for us all. Truly I believe that his divinity parted not from his humanity for a single moment nor a twinkling of an eye. Given for us for salvation, remission of sins and eternal life to those who partake of him. I believe, I believe, I believe that this is so in truth. Amen. (Coptic Liturgy of St. Basil, The Confession)

  2. St. John said: “Behold the Lamb of God… ” The LAMB; not the goat. Christ is our Pascha, our passover by which the angel of death is overcome.

  3. You said:
    “The devil took him as a ransom and now the devil no longer has God’s people in bondage. ”

    It is my understanding that the ransom that was “paid” was to death not the devil. As St. Gregory the Theologian teaches:

    “Now we are to examine another fact and dogma, neglected by most people, but in my judgment well worth enquiring into. To whom was that Blood offered that was shed for us, and why was It shed? I mean the precious and famous Blood of our God and High Priest and Sacrifice.

    We were detained in bondage by the Evil One, sold under sin, and receiving pleasure in exchange for wickedness. Now, since a ransom belongs only to him who holds in bondage, I ask to whom was this offered, and for what cause?

    If to the Evil One, fie upon the outrage! If the robber receives ransom, not only from God, but a ransom which consists of God Himself, and has such an illustrious payment for his tyranny, then it would have been right for him to have left us alone altogether!

    But if to God the Father, I ask first, how? For it was not by Him that we were being oppressed. And next, on what principle did the Blood of His only-begotten Son delight the Father, who would not receive even Isaac, when he was being sacrificed by his father, [Abraham,] but changed the sacrifice by putting a ram in the place of the human victim? (See Gen 22).

    Is it not evident that the Father accepts Him, but neither asked for Him nor demanded Him; but on account of the incarnation, and because Humanity must be sanctified by the Humanity of God, that He might deliver us Himself, and overcome the tyrant (i.e., the devil) and draw us to Himself by the mediation of His Son who also arranged this to the honor of the Father, whom it is manifest He obeys in all things.”

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