Solutions to Problems That Don’t Exist
Historically, Western Christianity has developed four major theories of atonement.
1. Will There Be the Devil to Pay?
The first significant unbiblical theory of atonement is called the “ransom” or “bargain” theory. Its position is that in the Fall, Adam and Eve sold humanity to the devil. Because of this, we have all come under the devil’s ownership, and justice demands he must be paid a ransom for our freedom. From this idea comes the expression, “There will be the devil to pay.”
The solution presented in this theory is that God tricks the devil into accepting Jesus’ death as a ransom. Death and Hades could not maintain a hold on Jesus, but His sacrifice and death nevertheless satisfied the devil’s claim for justice. In providing Himself as the sacrificial Lamb of God, Jesus has freed fallen humanity from the devil’s claim over us. This view dominated Western Christianity during the first thousand years after Christ.
2. A Payment to Appease an Angry God?
In the eleventh century, Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote, Why Did God Become Man? This critique of the ransom/bargain theory resulted in its virtual abandonment. Anselm’s critique held that the devil is an outlaw and has no claim on humanity. Thus God does not have to pay him anything in order to free us.