Christian Atonement

Harold R. Booher, Ph.D

July 2014


Christian Atonement is a 30 page article which provides scriptural support and critiques of the two major views of Christian Atonement.  The first view “penal substitution” is the one most frequently presented in the past 1000 years. The second major view "Christus Victor" was the classic view held by the early Christians and continued as the primary view until about 1000 AD. It resurged as an acceptable view in the mid-20th century and continues to grow in popularity through the works of Gregory Boyd. After describing and critiquing these two theories the article presents overall conclusions derived from the strengths and weaknesses of the two views.  


  Scriptural Support for Penal Substitution
  Sinfulness of Humanity
  The Holiness of God
  The Sacrifice of Christ
  Concluding Reflections
  Critique of Penal Substitution
  Scriptural Support for Christus Victor
  The Warfare Motif in Scripture
  Christ’s Victory over the Powers
  Good over Evil
  Critique of Christus Victor
  Schreiner’s Special Contributions
  Boyd’s Special Contributions
  Dispensation of Grace
  Not all Sinners are Deserving of Death
  Maurice’s Objections to the Atonement
  Notes and References

Christian Atonement

In Innocent Blood P.D. James lets one of her characters discuss his negative feelings about Christian atonement.  Maurice on a television interview with a bishop proclaims:

Well, let’s just recapitulate what you are asking us to believe. That God, whom you say is a spirit, which I take to mean is incorporeal…has created man in His own image. That man has sinned…he’s fallen short of the glory of God. That every child coming into the world is contaminated with this primeval sin through no fault of his own. That God, instead of demanding in expiation a bloody sacrifice from man, sent His only son into the world to be tortured and done to death in the most barbaric fashion in order to propitiate His Father’s desire for vengeance and to reconcile man to his creator. That this son was born of a virgin…We are asked to believe that this miraculously born, God-made man lived and died without sin to atone for man’s first obedience…The God of Love was apparently content to let it [the crucifixion] happen—indeed, willed it to happen—and to His only son. You can’t ask us to believe in a God of Love, who behaves less compassionately than would the least of his creatures.1

Maurice is an atheist, but he raises some challenging points for Christian belief in the atonement. Why does God need to extract a suffering payment from everyone who has come into the world naturally since Adam?  Why is the only payment acceptable His son? Why did Jesus agree to it?  Philosophically, does a substitution sacrifice make sense?  How can God be a God of Love and yet will his only son to a gruesome death?

Theologians suggest a number of options to help us understand the atonement. The one most frequently presented in the past 1000 years is as summarized by Thomas Schreiner, the “penal substitution” view.

The Father, because of his love for human beings, sent his Son (who offered himself willingly and gladly) to satisfy God’s justice, so that Christ took the place of sinners. The punishment and penalty we deserved was laid on Jesus Christ instead of us, so that in the cross both God’s holiness and love are manifested.2

A second view, the classic view held by the early Christians and continued as the primary view until about 1000 AD, is the “Christus Victor” view. The Christus Victor view or more commonly the “Ransom Theory” was nearly extinguished in Christian doctrine outside Eastern Orthodox for the next 900 years until Gustaf Aulen’s book, Christus Victor, was published in 1931. Aulen describes the Christus Victor view of atonement as recognizing “the work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the power which holds mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil.”3  More specifically “this is the theory that Adam and Eve made humanity subject to the Devil during the Fall, and that God, in order to redeem humanity, sent Christ as a “ransom” or “bait” so that the Devil not knowing Christ couldn’t die permanently, would kill him, and thus lose all right to humanity following the Resurrection.”4

There have been a number of other views e.g. (the “satisfaction theory”, the “governmental theory”, the “moral influence”, and the “healing view”) but penal substitution and Christus Victor are the two major views held over the centuries and are adequate to address the central beliefs of the atonement.

Scriptural Support for Penal Substitution

Schreiner presents three theological theses to show that “penal substitution” is “the heart and soul of God’s work in Christ.”5

  1. The sinful man and guilt of humanity
  2. The Holiness of God, and
  3. Sacrifice of Christ

Sinfulness of Humanity

Schreiner maintains that human beings need a penal substitution because they “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). He claims Paul’s support for penal substitution is discussed in Romans.  Even though “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23) all men are justified freely by [God’s] grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ. God presented him 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 unpunished (Rom 3:24-25).6

What sins are men accountable?  There is of course the fact that sin entered into the world because of Adam and no one escapes the problem of death simply because death works in us since the fall of Adam. But Adam’s sin does not speak for “sins left unpunished.”  Each person who lives dies in payment for Adam’s sin.  But there is also each individual’s sin. James states that “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all” (James 2:10).  Schreiner interprets this to mean, “One failure to keep the law brands us as a law-breaker and hence guilty before God.”7 God requires perfection and according to Jesus only one is good (Mat 19:17).

The sacrifices in the Old Testament atoned for sins individuals committed and were required for Israel to maintain its relationship with God. “Any individual who sinned, whether once or many times, was required to offer sacrifice….If God merely required substantial and significant obedience, sacrifice would not be demanded from those who trusted God most of the time. Sacrifices were still needed to atone for sins, however, because God demands perfect obedience.”8 The same concept of God’s standard of perfection is taught in the New Testament as well. Paul in Galatians teaches that anyone who relies on works of the law is under a curse. “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law and do them” (Gal.3:10).  The curse can only be removed by the cross of Jesus Christ (Gal 3:13) since Christ is a perfect human being only he can make a perfect sacrifice.
Schreiner sums up his first tenet of humanity’s sinfulness with “Human beings need atonement …because they are sinners, because they have failed to measure up to God’s law. God demands perfect obedience and no one has met the standard.”9 The atonement is necessary if humans are to be justified for sins left unpunished.

The Holiness of God 

Schreiner presents three points to demonstrate the holiness of God and what it means to penal substitution atonement. First, law breaking is not impersonal with God. The laws are not just something imposed on man by God to test him, but rather they describe God’s moral character.  Moral norms of the law express God’s character, the beauty and holiness of his person. Failure to keep the law is primarily a refusal to submit to God’s lordship. Quite simply, those who transgress the law reject God’s authority over their lives. The breaking of the law is personal with God just as committing adultery is a deeply personal act against the spouse.10

Second, those who sin deny his holiness and in doing so face the retributive judgment of God.  Scriptures repeatedly emphasize that God is holy (e.g., Lev 19:2, Ps 71:22; Is 6:3). God is so far apart from sinful human beings that their unworthiness must be made perfectly understood should they be allowed to come near his presence. “Indeed, the cleanliness regulations and the elaborate ritual required for sacrifices and entrance into God’s temple indicate that sinful human beings are unworthy to enter into God’s awesome presence.”11 As were the cases with Adam and Eve being expelled from the garden, the world engulfed with a flood, and those who erected the tower of Babel so it is as a general principle that when God’s holiness is defiled, judgment follows as a retribution.12

Third, God’s judgment of sin represents his personal anger against sin. When God displayed his wrath against Nadab and Abihu because they failed to honor God by entering into his presence casually, Moses explains: “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among those who are near to me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified’” (Lev 10:3).13

Schreiner summarizes why God’s holiness is so important in requiring a perfect penal substitute.

We are tempted to domesticate the God of the Bible whose holiness reaches heights that we can only partially grasp. When we read in text after text about God’s personal anger against sin, we recognize that those who define God’s anger solely in cause-and-effect terms deviate from revelation and have substituted a conception of God that fits their own sensibilities. The sacrifice of Christ is so precious because the judgment we deserve is so horrendous.14

The Sacrifice of Christ

The qualifications of Christ to be the penal substitution for all mankind is clear, but why does the sacrifice of an innocent being provide justice for “sins left unpunished?”

God’s acceptance of substitution for sins started with God’s relationship with the people of Israel. The concept of animal sacrifice for human sins, “penal substitution,” was created by God. God does explain why this is acceptable to him, but Israel understood the fundamental reason for Old Testament animal sacrifices was to atone for human sins.

The specific rituals of sacrifice give some idea of the importance of the event. For example, one might speculate that God required the laying on of hands on animals before the sacrifice to illustrate the animal functioned as a substitute for a person. “The sins of human beings are transferred, so to speak, to the animal.”15 The sacrifice of animals conveys the violence, the blood, the entrails, the goriness of it all—a constant reminder that the penalty of sin is death.16 Often the Bible mentions that the animal sacrifices produced a soothing aroma to God. Some scholars explain “this image indicates that they [the sacrifices] satisfy God’s wrath, that they appease his anger.”17

The sacrificial substitute follows a chain of logic:  God’s wrath is provoked by sin; blood atones because it contains life and therefore is offering or releasing the life to God; the animal life substitutes for the human life it represents. The substitute life was accepted by God when specific procedures and ceremonies were invoked. The whole sacrificial system was designed by God to have a lasting impression on the sinner such that he understood the animal’s life was taking the place of his life.18 But ultimately the blood of animals cannot atone for sin (Heb10:4). Schreiner explains from a Christian point of view: “the requirement of animal sacrifice points ahead to the death of Christ and reminds us of the utter seriousness of sin.”19  

Prophecies in the Old Testament reveal that penal substitution sacrifice pointed to a culmination of Christ’s death as a propitiation for all human sins. Isaiah (52:13-53:12) is the most important messianic text to describe the elements of a substitutionary atonement.20 Just a few of the many examples from Isaiah illustrate the likening of animal sacrifice for sins to Christ’s death on the cross: “lamb that is led to the slaughter” (Is 53:7); “it was God’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and through the Lord makes his life a guilt offering” (Is 53:10); “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is 53:6); “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities…and by his wounds we are healed” (Is: 53: 5).

The cross would demonstrate God’s justice and mercy at that juncture of salvation history. The sins that were passed over were covered by Christ who “bore the full payment for sin.” With Christ’s death God can be both just and the justifier. “God’s justice is satisfied because Christ bore the whole payment for sin.  But God is also the justifier because on the basis of the cross of Christ, the sinner receives forgiveness through faith in Jesus.”21 As a God of justice, his wrath against sin had been permanently soothed.  As for his love, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son” (Jn 3:16).

Concluding Reflections

In his concluding reflections, Schreiner covers some explanations he believes may help us to understand why God chose penal substitution for atonement; how the God-Head comprising Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cannot be rigidly likened to a human father-son relationship; and admission that the atonement involves much mystery, that we must take on faith His method of salvation as revealed in His word.

“Penal substitution explains how God remains God in forgiving us of our sins, for God would deny his very being as God if he forgave us and violated his justice and holiness.”  Even though God is angry with both the sin and the sinner, he ”sent his Son because of his great love for sinners (Jn 3:16; Rom 5:6-10; 8:32; 1 Jn 4:10).”22

“God did not compel Christ to die for sinners against his will. The Son gladly gave his life for sinners. It was his delight to do the will of God (Heb 10:5-10) and he surrendered his life voluntarily (Jn 10:18).” The doctrine of the Trinity forbids us from separating the persons of the Trinity too rigidly from one another, although one does not want to stray too far in the other direction of minimizing the distinctions among the Father, the Son and the Spirit.23

But when all is said and done, “we must confess that ultimately the teaching of the atonement involves mystery, and no human analogy captures the dynamic of the Father sending his Son to die for our salvation.”24  

Critique of Penal Substitution

Schreiner does a commendable effort in explaining and defending the most popular view of atonement since around 1000 AD. There are however a number of significant problems with the penal substitution nature of atonement.

First and perhaps the greatest objection to penal substitution is the requirement for God’s wrath to be appeased and that this could only be done with the bloody sacrifice of his son.
This objection is much the same as P.D. James’ character, Maurice, raises. “That God, instead of demanding in expiation a bloody sacrifice from man, sent His only son into the world to be tortured and done to death in the most barbaric fashion in order to propitiate His Father’s desire for vengeance and to reconcile man to his creator.”25

Elsewhere I discuss God’s wrath is not part of His character as is justice, grace and love.26 God can get angry and apply wrath when he deems it important and necessary.  The flood came after thousands of years of patience enduring the violent nature of mankind.  Sodom, the Amorites and the Canaanites were not punished until their evil had run its course.27 I am unable to find anywhere in the Bible, Old or New Testament, where it specifically states that “God’s very nature requires him to satiate his rage in order to love and redeem sinners.” Or that “God’s very nature forbids him from simply forgiving without payment.”28

C.S. Lewis speaks of self sacrificial love as a “deeper magic” than the “deep magic” of the law.  Lewis maintained that God expresses holy rage, but God is love.29  Gregory Boyd, strong critic of penal substitution, agrees that God’s wrath burns against sin (Eph 2:3), but  God’s demand for a “kill” does not come from God’s need to satisfy his wrath against sinners. Using Lewis’ language Boyd asks, “Who demanded that the deep magic of the law be satisfied with a bloody death?”  Boyd believes the demand for a sacrificial lamb as payment for breaking the law does not come from God but rather from Satan. “Jesus’ death was not centered on saving us from God’s threatening wrath. It was rather centered on manifesting God’s love in order to free us from the devil’s wrath. God does not hold our feet to the fire of the law: Satan the ‘accuser,’ the ‘Inspector Javert’ of the spiritual realm, if you will, does (Rev 12:10; Job1-2; Zech 3:1).”30

The Biblical sacrificial and substitutionary language for Lewis and Schreiner is the same, but such scriptural language need not be primarily interpreted “in legal, penal terms.”31      Isaiah’s stirring prediction of the cross as easily moves us to feeling the awe of our creator’s self sacrificial love as that of thankfulness for escaping the horror of God’s wrath.  If we have the choice, motivation of self sacrificial love seems closer to describing God’s nature than one where God needs to appease his wrath.

Second, the statement “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” does not mean “all sinners require death as a punishment for any and all sins.”  Falling short of the glory of God is a far cry from deserving eternal punishment. After all Enoch and Elijah were translated straight to heaven, even though as humans they were sinners. David, who committed greater sins than most people, died with great favor in God’s eyes. And what about babies and little children who die? What are they personally guilty of that they deserve to die again? There is no indication that all people are so guilty on their own that they would die a second death were it not for the cross. People for thousands of years have and will continue (until God changes the system) die a first death because of the fall of Adam which brought death into the world. The promise of salvation is that a person will live again and be excluded from complete extinction. The cross and the resurrection guarantee that those who believe and are baptized will inherit the kingdom. The final state of others is more precarious, determined by God either in judgments along the way or the final judgment, but   “It is a fearsome thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31). Better to be covered as best one can with the protection of the Lord when that day comes.

Third, several of those who critiqued the penal substitution nature of atonement were disappointed that penal substitution seems to hold so little significance to most other aspects of Jesus life32 or provide Christian motivation for a reformed life.33  Jesus’ radical countercultural life, his lifelong nonviolent opposition to the powers, his extensive kingdom teachings, and his healing and exorcism ministry find no obvious relationship to Jesus dying in place of sinners to satisfy God’s need for perfect justice.34 The penal substitution view exists in and of itself in the gospels. It serves only one purpose, to die in place of sinners to satisfy God’s law. It is unable “to weave all aspects of Jesus’ incarnation, life, ministry, death and resurrection together under one theme.”35

Fourth, although Schreiner claims the penal substitution view includes the importance of resurrection36 this claim is an unsupported afterthought. What role can the resurrection play that relates to the atonement? The work is finished. God is appeased. Christ has paid the debt for all sinners. There is no additional requirement for resurrection to play in this view. Obviously Christ must first die in order to rise, but penal substitution does not need the resurrection for its purpose to be completed. What reason would God have in raising Christ from the dead “that would be penal in nature?”37

Scriptural Support for Christus Victor 

Since the late 20th century philosopher Gregory Boyd has been the primary individual to explain and argue the merits of Christus Victor to the modern age.

Boyd maintains the same scripture used to support penal substitution can also support Christus Victor.  There is no argument between the two views that according to the law all men are sinners and deserving of death.38 The differences, which are extensive, lie in comparing a strictly legal view for a substitution sacrifice attributable to God’s need for justice as opposed to a self sacrificial love initiated by God to pay the price Satan required when His good law became a curse for fallen man.

There is scripture on the atonement however that penal substitution does not utilize.39 Boyd uses this additional scripture to point out the heart and soul of Christus Victor. That is, to overpower the devil. “The central thing Jesus did was drive out the ‘ruler of this world’ (John 12:31).  He came to ‘destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil’ in order to ‘free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death’(Heb 2:14-15).”40 From the first prophecy, that a descendant of Eve would crush the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15), it was expected that Messiah would accomplish a major victory over the ancient serpent.41

Victory over God’s enemies (the devil and his angels) was prophesized in Psalm 110.  “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’” (Ps 110:1).  According to Peter in the first Christian sermon this Psalm was fulfilled to the letter by Christ’s death and resurrection (Acts 2:32-36). Importantly, “Psalm 110 is the most frequently cited passage in the New Testament, and it always, in a variety of ways, is used to express the truth that Christ is Lord because he has defeated God’s enemies.42

Boyd presents three central theses to explain and provide support for his “Christus Victor” model of atonement.

  1. The Warfare Motif in Scripture
  2. Christ’s Victory over the Powers
  3. Overcoming Evil with Good

The Warfare Motif in Scripture

Boyd believes that there is a broad spiritual warfare motif that runs throughout scripture. He claims “the biblical narrative could in fact be accurately described as a story of God’s ongoing conflict with and the ultimate victory over cosmic and human agents
who oppose him and threaten his creation.”43

Ancient Near Eastern mythology depicted evil in terms of hostile waters, cosmic monsters, and rebel gods. For Israel it was Yahweh who warred against these evil waters, monsters and gods, where as non-Israelites looked to such deities as Marduk and Baal to resist these sinister cosmic forces.44   Examples of Yahweh conquering these evil entities are found throughout the Old Testament especially in the wisdom literature (Psalms, Proverbs and Job) and the prophets (Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Nahum). The ancient Israelites did not separate battles on earth from those that took place among the gods in the spiritual realm (e.g., 2 Sam. 5 23-24; 1 Chron. 12:22; Judg. 11:21-24).45 

Boyd summarizes the Warfare Motif for the Old Testament:  “Order in the cosmos and the preservation of Israel depend on God’s continual fighting against these evil cosmic forces. In contrast to their pagan neighbors, Old Testament authors …express unprecedented confidence that Yahweh is capable of keeping these cosmic forces of chaos at bay and ultimately overthrowing them.”46

The New Testament greatly intensified the apocalyptic worldview of the Old Testament and enhanced the role of Satan in leading those evil forces that hold the earth hostage. “For example, the role given to Satan by Jesus and his followers is without precedent in previous apocalyptic writings.” Jesus frequently referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world.” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).  Satan in the temptation is depicted as possessing “all the kingdoms of the world,” and has the power to give authority to rule these kingdoms to anyone he pleases (Luke. 4:5-6).  John also stresses that the entire world is “under the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Paul calls Satan “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) and “the ruler of the power of air” (Eph. 2:2).  In view of this overwhelming diabolic influence, Paul “depicts this present world system as fundamentally evil (Gal. 1:4).”47

Jesus’ principal effort while he was on earth “was centered on vanquishing this evil world empire, taking back the world that Satan had seized and restoring its rightful viceroys—humans—to their positions of guardians of the earth (Gen 1:26-28; 2 Tim 2:12; Rev 5:10).”48   Boyd ends his thesis of Satan in the New Testament with a quote from Peter. “Peter summarizes Jesus’ ministry to Cornelius when he said that Jesus ‘went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil’” (Acts 10:38).49

“Jesus and the New Testament authors saw demonic influences not only in demonized and diseased people but directly or indirectly in everything that was not consistent with God’s reign.” Lying, false teachings, spiritual blindness, legalism and persecution were also considered satanically inspired. Paul frequently mentions God’s battle with the spiritual powers.  Throughout Paul’s letters these spiritual powers are described with such synonyms as “rulers,” “principalities,” “powers,” “authorities,” “dominions,” cosmic powers,” “thrones,” “spiritual forces,” and “elemental spirits.”  In addition to the disciples’ earthly struggles, Paul pressed upon them their overarching struggle against “the rulers, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12: cf. 2 Cor. 10:3-5).50 

Boyd states what had to happen for victory over these powers is summarized in Paul’s thought. “Paul believed what was needed was nothing less than God breaking into human history to destroy the power of sin and rescuing us from the cosmic powers that keep us in bondage to sin.”51 The victory over the powers described in the warfare motif of the Old and New Testaments started with the advent of Jesus Christ, continued through his ministry on earth, and culminated with the atonement and resurrection.

Christ’s Victory over the Powers

As pointed out in the introduction of Boyd’s presentation “the heart and soul of the Christus Victor view of atonement is Christ overpowering the devil.” Christ’s victory over Satan was the first prophecy of the Old Testament, continued throughout the Old Testament and described as Jesus’ primary purpose in the Gospels and Acts. But how does defeating the devil bring us salvation?

With the Christus Victor view, Boyd explains, “the main thing Christ accomplished was that he defeated the devil ... [therefore] salvation in the New Testament is frequently depicted as freedom from the devil’s oppression.”  When Paul first encountered Christ, he was to be sent to the Gentiles “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith [in Jesus]” (Acts 26: 17-18).  “Through Paul, God was going to free Gentiles from ‘the God of this world’ who had ‘blinded the minds of the unbelievers’ (2 Cor 4:4) and thereby set them free from the power of Satan and bring them into the power of God.”52

Boyd emphasizes “The foremost thing that the death and resurrection of Christ…was the subjection of all cosmic powers under him.”53 Paul indicates we grow into the fullness of Christ who now is “the head of every ruler and authority” (Col 2:10). Boyd explains, “Salvation…involves forgiveness of sins, but this sin is itself rooted in a person getting freed from Satan’s grip, and therefore freed from the controlling power of sin.”54 Salvation is part of the inheritance that can be acquired once a person escapes “from the snare of the devil” (2 Tim 2:26). Mankind has been “rescued…from the power of darkness and transferred…into the kingdom of the beloved son” (Col 1:14). Boyd concludes “we have this inheritance…because we’ve been ‘transferred’ out of Satan’s dominion and brought under the reign of God through his son.”55

So exactly how does salvation work in the Christus Victor view of atonement?  Boyd concludes that salvation truly means “all who trust in Christ are incorporated into him and therefore share in this cosmic victory.” Succinctly, “everything Satan and the diabolical powers had on us—all the sin that put us under their oppression—has lost its power and we have therefore been set free from all condemnation (Col 2:14-15).”56   

Christ’s victory (Christus Victor) over the powers does not mean “salvation from God’s wrath” or “salvation from hell.”  Rather it means is that “Christ has in principle freed the cosmos from its demonic oppression and thus freed all inhabitants of the cosmos who will simply submit to this new loving reign.”57

Good over Evil

The New Testament could hardly be clearer in showing “that Christ came to defeat the devil and his works,” but Boyd admits that “how exactly Christ’s life, death and resurrection accomplished this feat is not so clear.”58

Boyd starts to tackle the “how Christ defeated the devil” by showing the Christus Victor motif is not limited to Christ’s death, but permeates his life and teaching as well.59 Boyd examines five clues that may help explain how Christ defeated the devil.60

  1. The first clue is found from the demons. They seem to know who Jesus is but have no idea what he is doing in their domain (Mk 1:23-24; 3:11; 5:7; Lk 8:28).
  2. The rich variety of God’s wisdom that led to the crucifixion was kept secret and hidden until after the crucifixion (Rom 16:25; 1 Cor 2:7; Eph 3:9-10; Col 1:26).
  3. Satan was instrumental in bringing about Christ’s crucifixion. For example Satan entered into Judas and inspired him to betray Jesus (Jn 13:27).
  4. Paul states that had the “rulers of this age” understood the secret wisdom of God, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8, cf. vv. 6-7).
  5. It was by the means of the cross that the rulers were defeated and humanity, along with the whole of creation, was reconciled to God. Therefore even though the spiritual rulers wanted to crucify Jesus, it somehow backfired on them.

Boyd speculates from these clues the following scenario. “The wisdom of God centered on Jesus dying out of love” for the human race. The powers however, “being evil, apparently lacked the capacity to imagine action that is motivated by… self sacrificial love.”  Working with human agents the powers planned and executed Jesus’ crucifixion, only to learn later that “they had played into God’s secret plan” (Acts 2:22-23; 4:28). Can this be the reason Paul says Christ not only disarmed the powers, he made a public spectacle of them? (Col 2:14-15).61

Boyd concludes that God did, in a sense, deceive Satan and the powers and that Jesus was, in a sense, “bait.”  But there was nothing unjust or otherwise out of character for God’s behavior. He simple acted “in an outrageously loving way, knowing all the while that his actions could not be understood by the powers whose evil blinds them to love…He wisely let evil implode on itself…and thereby freed creation and humanity from evil’s oppression.”62

Critique of Christus Victor

Gregory Boyd is to be commended for clarifying and defending the Christus Victor view of atonement which has essentially lain dormant for the past 1000 years, yet it was the preferred view of the church before then. Frankly, without Christus Victor playing a major role in the atonement how would we explain the extensive scripture that relates to Jesus’ purpose being to overthrow the devil, and the cross being so fundamental to liberating human kind from the hold of Satan?  Christ taking upon himself the entire wrath of God in payment for human sins does not in any obvious way simultaneously free us from the hold of Satan. The Christus Victor view also allows us to interpret God’s self-sacrificing love as the motive behind the necessity of the cross, as opposed to a legal requirement for the death of all sinners that could only be satisfied (short of exterminating the human race) by a penal substitution sufficient to appease his wrath.

However, Christus Victor has some deficiencies that need illuminated. First is one raised by Schreiner:  “[I]f the Christus Victor motif is not tethered to penal substitution, we might conclude that human beings are merely victims of sin, held in thrall by evil powers. Penal substitution reminds us that sinners are enslaved to demonic powers because of our own moral failure and guilt.”63   It is certainly true that Boyd spends far more time on the powers that enslave than the guilt of humans. Yet it is generally human sin that allows Satan to enter into our lives and enslave us.  Judas was not forced by demons to betray Jesus.  He was already a thief, stealing from the common purse (which he held) of Jesus and the disciples. As a breaker of one of the Ten Commandments to fatten his personal purse, he was fair game to the tempter and was especially vulnerable to the offer of silver to betray his master. 

Second, while Christus Victor has scripture that clearly establishes the importance of this model, it is questionable that it is so central that it organizes all other atonement metaphors under it. None of the passages cited by Boyd to establish Christus Victor as the central purpose of the cross “speak of Christ’s act in terms that suggest that the conquest of Satan is the fundamental or main way to interpret the atonement.”64

Third, how is this victory actually accomplished? In the Old Testament Warfare motif, “power provides the means of victory.”65   Moreover, the defeat of Satan first prophesied in Genesis was by power “crushing the head of the serpent.”66   Yet Boyd emphasizes love is the means to victory. While self sacrificial love is scripturally correct, it is difficult to comprehend in a Christus Victor context. Of course it also is not clear how love brings about the conquest of Satan and our atonement, especially when “the final successful battle [with Satan] is not one of love but of all-out horrific war (Rev 19-20).”67

Fourth and most challenging, if Satan was vanquished at the cross:

a. What has been going on with the war between God and Satan for the past 2000 years?  If the answer is the church, then:

b. “Why is it not more apparent who is winning?”67   After asking this question Reichenbach  provides indicators that suggest, if anything, we are losing. “After all, neither moral evils nor natural evils, both ascribed to causal powers of Satan, have significantly declined. Rather the former have increased (more people were killed by wars in the twentieth century than in all the previous centuries combined), and the destructiveness of natural disasters has not abated, either in intensity or deadliness.”68

Reichenbach concludes by mentioning the paucity of evidence for positive changes since the cross. “If Satan and his hosts were conquered at the cross, one would expect to find more empirical evidence of this victory.”69

Boyd cannot answer why there has not been more evidence of moral and natural evils’ abatement since the cross.  But then neither do any of the supporters of other atonement views have any special insight on why the church has had so little success in eliminating the kingdom of Satan.
Those of us who have been exposed to the teachings of Otis Sellers, believe there is a biblical basis that helps explain the little progress made against moral and natural evil since the cross and resurrection.  Boyd identifies a few verses that speak of “God’s hidden wisdom” and “mysteries hidden by God” that he applies to the crucifixion (see pg. 15 above, clue 2 under “Good over Evil”). However only one of these mysteries (I Cor. 2; 7-8) is about the crucifixion and it was only hidden from the princes of this world.   For example, Isaiah 52-53 had long before revealed the crucifixion to anyone who cared or was able to understand. Apparently the princes of this world could not see the crucifixion coming.  But the other mysteries mentioned by Boyd were hidden from everyone and did not apply to the crucifixion.

The other mysteries hid in God were one, each about a “dispensation of grace,” that was hidden from everyone since the foundation of the world. This secret dispensation of grace was a totally new revelation heralded by Paul after the crucifixion, resurrection, and the acts of the disciples (Eph. 3:2-3, 5, 8-9; Col. 1:25-26). The dispensation of grace is what now exists and will continue to exist until the manifest kingdom appears.

Boyd cannot really be faulted with a misinterpretation of the importance of Christus Victor based on the lack of evidence for any progress against evil in past 2000 years. The problem is explaining why the new kingdom which started with Jesus’ ministry on earth and continued with the disciples for a period of some 30 years suddenly stopped expanding. With the victory over Satan accomplished there was nothing to prevent Christ’s kingdom from spreading throughout the world. But God wished to introduce a totally new dispensation to show his absolute character of grace, before resuming his kingdom on earth program. The topic of the administration of grace is beyond this paper, but can be fully understood in available material referenced in the notes.70 The relevance of the dispensation of grace to Christus Victor is that it provides a possible reason why the church has made so little progress since the scriptures were closed.


Schreiner’s Special Contributions

1.  In scripturally defending the church’s preferred interpretation of the nature of the atonement,71 Schreiner is adamant that Jesus took the death we deserved because of our sins. “Penal substitution explains how God remains God in forgiving us of our sins, for God would deny his very being as God if he forgave us and violated his justice and holiness.”72 In fact God, in the penal substitution view, takes sin so very personally that it invokes such wrath that it could only be appeased with the death penalty.  But at the same time, God so loves people that he enforces his justice through punishing a substitute. Schreiner mollifies some of the objections of God the father sacrificing his own son by pointing out the triune nature of God and that Christ was fully willing to accept this burden. With Christ’s death God can be both just and justifier. God’s justice is satisfied because Christ bore the whole payment for sin. But God is also the justifier because on the basis of the cross of Christ, the sinner receives forgiveness through faith in Jesus.73 His explanation of Penal Substitution is especially important since it makes clear the holiness of God, drives his necessary distance from us where sin is in the way. 

2. Schreiner provides valuable information on the holiness of God and the role this play this plays in demanding justice for sins.  First, law breaking is not impersonal with God. The laws are not just something imposed on man by God to test him, but rather they describe God’s moral character.  Moral norms of the law express God’s character, the beauty and holiness of his person. Second, God is so far apart from sinful human beings that their unworthiness must be perfectly understood should they be allowed to come near his presence.

3. Schreiner also provides a convincing description of how the animal sacrificial substitute system likely worked, giving us a better understanding of why God accepted animal substitutes for people’s guilt. The sacrificial substitute makes logical sense.  God’s wrath is provoked by sin; blood atones because it contains life and therefore is offering or releasing the life to God; the animal life substitutes for the human life it represents. The substitute life was accepted by God when specific procedures and ceremonies were invoked. The whole sacrificial system was designed by God to have a lasting impression on the sinner such that he understood the animal’s life was taking the place of his life.

Boyd’s Special Contributions

1. Boyd is convinced that the main purpose of Christ coming in the flesh to earth, teaching, ministering to the sick, driving out demons, and preaching the kingdom was to overthrow the devil. The culmination of defeating the devil was Christ giving his life to pay the price Satan required when God’s good law had become a curse for fallen man. Although this sacrifice is similar to paying Satan ‘ransom” in return for freeing the enslaved human race, Boyd prefers to use the term “pay the price” of release by whatever legitimate means that might entail. Boyd summarizes this to mean:

[T]he Christus Victor model can simply take this to mean that Christ did whatever it took to release us from slavery to the powers, and this he did by becoming incarnate, living an outrageously loving life in defiance of the powers, freeing people from the oppression of the devil through healings and exorcisms, teaching the way of self-sacrificial love, and most definitely by his sacrificial death and victorious resurrection. He “paid the price” needed to bring us and the whole of creation into God’s salvation.74

“So … the Christus Victor model can wholeheartedly affirm that Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many, but without supposing that Jesus literally had to in some sense buy off either God or the devil (Mt 20:28; Mk 10;45; cf. 1 Tim 2:6; Heb 9:15).”75

2.   Boyd incorporates more scripture for the Christus Victor nature of the atonement than the other views. That is because he brings both the penal substitute supporting verses and those that speak to the defeat of Satan at the cross. The defeat of Satan is fundamental to the Christus Victor model, but is only an added result in the other views. For example, the defeat of Satan is secondary with penal substitution because penal substitution stresses only the atonement—the price to reconcile man to God. Further penal substitution does not explain the resurrection. The defeat of Satan requires both the cross and resurrection. If Christ simply died to pay for our sins and was not resurrected, then Satan would have won. He would have destroyed the Son of God, the only competitor to head the kingdom on earth.  Only the Christus Victor model addresses this issue. 

3.  If we are truly allowed to choose between the legalism of punishment by death for all sinners and God’s motivation of self sacrifice driven by love, then the latter is not only easier to swallow, but more clearly reconciles “God is love” scripture with the fact of the cross.

4.  The Christus Victor view of atonement readily ties to most other aspects of Jesus life.76 Beginning with Jesus’ incarnation, continuing with his temptation, his radical countercultural life, his lifelong nonviolent opposition to the powers, his extensive kingdom teachings, his healing and exorcism ministry, and of course the resurrection—each provides a portion that links to the atonement as part and parcel of one major objective—defeat the devil and free the enslaved.

Dispensation of Grace 77

Christus Victor and the other views of the atonement cannot explain why, if Satan was defeated at the cross, evil continues to exist. This is more of a problem for Boyd than the others because he spells out that the primary objective of the cross was to defeat Satan. We know that the cross and resurrection are fundamental to Christianity. We know with the cross we are reconciled to God, and that Satan is (in principle) defeated.  We believe God fulfilled the law requiring punishment for sinners with the self-sacrifice of Christ and from his ministry onward initiated acts to retrieve the kingdom of earth from Satan. The cross and resurrection show God intervening in history in a most dramatic way, and that things began to change in a positive direction during the Acts period. But suddenly near the end of Acts something strange happened.78 God became silent, miracles were no longer shown, and a new dispensation known only to God [until revealed to the Saints through Paul (Eph. 3:2-3, 5)] put a parenthesis around current history so that God’s new manner of administering his relationship with mankind became by grace only.79 Grace is a characteristic of God that cannot be displayed at the same time as justice.   Grace neither rewards for merit nor punishes for demerit. It is like the sun, which is provided for all without regard for good or bad behavior.

Christ’s ministry on earth and his death and resurrection started the kingdom of God, but that kingdom was put to the side when his administration of grace came into being. Until the kingdom is restarted, the benefits of the devil’s defeat will not be realized. The church has not been able to overcome the moral and natural evils which continue to grow in a fallen universe. But thoughout the past 2000 years, those faithful in Christ continue to accumulate and are all candidates to inherit a portion of the manifest kingdom.

Not all Sinners are Deserving of Death

Both Schreiner and Boyd admit all atonement models are deficient. The actual manner in which the Christus Victor shows love brings about the conquest and our atonement is not spelled out in any detail,  Boyd in his defense notes “at the end of the day we must humbly acknowledge that that our understanding is severely limited.”80 Regarding penal substitution, Schreiner acknowledges: “Still we must confess that ultimately the teaching on the atonement involves mystery, and no human analogy captures the dynamic of the Father sending his Son to die for our salvation.”81

I believe Boyd is more correct in emphasizing self-sacrificial love as God’s principal motivation. However Schreiner is most correct in recognizing God does have wrath against unrepentant sinners, that is, those who continue throughout their lives to be unrighteous (Rom 1-13).  If this wrath is not appeased by faith and behavior change for such individuals, it could result in the second death. The first death comes to us all regardless of Christ’s sacrifice.

But both Schreiner and Boyd seem to ignore the relative difference of types and amount of sins committed by sinners.  All sins and all sinners are not the same.  Paul states “all are sinners and fall short of the glory of God.” But Paul doesn’t say all who fall short of the glory of God are deserving of a second death. Paul’s statement here is about the present state of man compared with the perfectibility of man. We all fall short of the glory of God; but belief in Christ that transforms our lives is an important step toward the glory of God.  Not all sin justifies a second death. Galatians 5:19-21 emphasizes some of the sins that could keep a person out of the kingdom and possibly guilty enough for the second death. That will be determined at the final judgment. There would be no need to discriminate between type and severity of sin, if the punishment were always the same.

Jesus did die for all sins, which allows all sins to be washed away so that a sinner can come into the presence of God. This is an issue of the cross and resurrection guiding people in a direction toward the perfectibility needed to approach the glory of God, not because man’s sin is so great that without the cross only death for every man would be the price to sooth God’s wrath.82

The point is not that all sinners are deserving of final elimination were it not for the cross. Rather it is that all sinners need a savior or there is no chance either for continuation of the human race or for the human race coming into a complete and glorious relationship with God. We have shown we can’t make a righteous society on our own. We all need a fresh start with faith in Christ. His death and resurrection plays a most central role in turning the world around in God’s unfathomable plan to build a future kingdom on earth filled with righteous human beings. However, Christ’s death does not erase all possible sins that have happened or will happen – otherwise there would be no need for final judgment.

Maurice’s Objections to the Atonement
I started this thesis on the Christian atonement with a description of how an atheist might present it as part of his reason for not believing in the Christian God. Surprisingly much of Maurice’s statement is not far from the penal substitution view.  Penal substitution theologians would not choose some of terms used by Maurice but the primary tenets are there.

That man has sinned…he’s fallen short of the glory of God. That every child coming into the world is contaminated with this primeval sin through no fault of his own. That God, instead of demanding in expiation a bloody sacrifice from man, sent His only son into the world to be tortured and done to death in the most barbaric fashion in order to propitiate His Father’s desire for vengeance and to reconcile man to his creator.83 

Maurice does not consider that the analogy of God the father with an earthly father or God the son with an earthly son is not appropriate for the Trinity. The Son is also God and willingly agreed to his self-sacrifice. Also penal substitution claims God is both totally just and totally love.  As a just God he must extract a punishment for anyone who sins, but since he is also a God of love, he provides a substitute (His own son) that will wash away all sins.  If this theological explanation (God is not like us and created the cross since this was the only way He could remain God, maintain his holiness, justice, and love all at the same time) could move Maurice from his strongly negative view of God, then he would be understanding and accepting the prevalent and most widely accepted nature of the atonement.

Maurice is obviously unaware of the Christus Victor view that God’s primary motivation for the cross God’s love for man and the manner in which God can wrest Satan’s enslaving kingdom from him and set man free.  If Maurice does not believe in God, it is doubtful he believes in Satan. The idea of a long term warfare going on between God and Satan would likely seem like quite a stretch and have little effect on Maurice either way. On the other hand any view of the Christian atonement that removes the “desire for vengeance” should be more appealing and consistent with “God is love.” 

In the introduction to this study, I suggest a number of questions about the atonement that Maurice’s characterization raises. “Why does God need to extract a suffering payment from everyone who has come into the world naturally since Adam?  Why is the only payment acceptable His only son? Why did Jesus agree to it?  Philosophically, does a substitution sacrifice make sense?  How can God be a God of Love and yet will his only son to a gruesome death?

I argue that both Schreiner and Boyd are in error to claim that “Legally a just God requires the death sentence from everyone born since Adam.” Not all who have lived deserve the death penalty for their own sins. God could of course pre-determine that the unguided path of mankind was eventually hopelessly headed toward death for all. But rather than correct the misguided path with a substitute sacrifice, God uses the cross to once and for all give a sacrifice that will atone for any and all sins of those who will accept Christ on faith and transform their lives accordingly. All people die naturally because of Adam’s sin, but any discussion of a future death because of a sinful life or salvation for a person who lives a faithful life is the choice God provides everyone through the cross and the resurrection.

“The only payment acceptable was the Father’s only son” is to illustrate that God so loved the world that he gave his only son. Such a demonstration of love was so dramatic that (combined with the resurrection) it brought into being the world wide Christian faith. Nothing before or since has been offered to compare with the demonstration of how much God loves people.

“Why did Jesus agree?”  Jesus is part of the God Head, and fully willing to give his life for sinners.

“Does a substitution sacrifice make sense?”  The Old Testament animal substitution sacrifices prepare the path for accepting one perfect sacrifice to atone for all sins once and forever. Animal sacrifices could only provide the understanding that God is holy and needs for people to understand that their sins are a rejection of him and the animal’s death is a reminder of the seriousness of sin. Substitution of one’s life for another is easily recognized as a demonstration of deep love. What parent would not willingly trade places with a child who is dying of terminal cancer. But a full understanding of how Jesus dying a painful death for us somehow removes our sins is still in the area of a mystery of God.

“How can God be a God of Love and yet will his only son to a gruesome death?” Both the penal substitution and the Christus Victor views spend extensive portions of their defense on this question. Schreiner argues the cross was the only way that a full payment for sin could satisfy the requirement of death for sin and at the same time demonstrate God’s love by actually making the payment for us by substitution.  Boyd presses the self-sacrificial motive that comes from the God of Love to release mankind from the grip of the devil. Again the cross (combined with resurrection) was the only way God could defeat the ancient serpent, the accuser, the tempter, the father of lies, Lucifer, Satan, Beelzebub, the devil. 

Whatever view or combination of views on the atonement helps one’s faith all Christians agree that Jesus’ saving work through the cross reconciled the almighty with mankind for all eternity.

Notes and References

1. James, P.D., Innocent Blood, New York: Simon and Shuster (1980), p.238-9.
2. Schreiner, Thomas, in Beilby, James and Eddy, Paul R., (Eds), The Nature of Atonement: Four Views, Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic (2006), p.67.
3. Aulen, Gustaf, (transl. by A,G.Herber SSM) Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement (London: SPCK, 1931;New York: 1969) p.20. My source: Wickapedia, Feb 2014, “Atonement in Christianity; Theories of Atonement; Christus Victor”.
4. Ibid. Wickapedia, summarizing Aulen’s book re: Christus Victor Sec.1.1 Atonement Theories.
5. Schreiner, op.cit, note 2, p.72.
6. Ibid, p.88.
7. Ibid, p.74
8. Ibid, p.74-75
9. Ibid, p.76.
10. Ibid, p.77-78.
11. Ibid, p.78.
12. Ibid, p.78.
13. Ibid, p.81.
14. Ibid, p.82. 
15. Ibid, p.83.
16. Ibid, p.83.
17. Ibid, p.83.
18. Ibid, p.85.
19. Ibid, p.83.
20. Ibid, p.86.
21. Ibid, p.88.
22. Ibid, p.94-95.
23. Ibid, p.95.
24. Ibid, p.96.
25. James, op.cit, note 1, p.238.
26. Booher, H.R., “Divine Wrath,” 6-2010.
27. Ibid. In all the examples of God using genocide (Noah, Sodom, Amorites, Canaan) God waited patiently until their sin “reached its full measure” (cf. Gen. 15:16).
28. Boyd, Gregory in Beilby, James and Eddy, Paul R., (Eds), The Nature of Atonement: Four Views, Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic (2006), p.102. These are quotes from Boyd which I use in a somewhat different context. Boyd is emphasizing that these are requirements for penal substitution, but does not think they are necessary for expressing God’s nature. I use the quotes to show personal research that supports Boyd’s argument.
29. Ibid. Boyd’s notes on C.S. Lewis are taken from The Chronicles of Narnia (1950; reprint, New York: Harper Collins, 2001), pp. 175-191.
30. Ibid, p.103.
31. Ibid, p.102.
32. Ibid, p.99.
33. Green, Joel, in Beilby, James and Eddy, Paul R., (Eds), The Nature of Atonement: Four Views, Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic (2006), 114.
34. Boyd, op, cit, note 28, 99-100.
35. Ibid, p.100
36. Schreiner, op.cit, note 2, p.73.
37. Boyd, op.cit, note 28, p.99.
38.  I strongly disagree with both Schreiner and Boyd that all people would be so guilty before God that they would be deserving of a second death were it not for the cross. See argument on pages 10 and 23.
39. Schreiner does not ignore this scripture but considers it something that happens as a result of atonement at the cross.
40. Boyd, op.cit, note 28, p.30.
41. Ibid, p.30.
42. Ibid, p.31.
43. Ibid, p.25.
44. Ibid, p.25.
45. Ibid, p.25.
46. Ibid, p.26.
47. Ibid, p.27.
48. Ibid, p.27.
49. Ibid, p.27-28.
50. Ibid, p.28-29.
51. Ibid, p.32.       
52. Ibid, p.29.
53. Ibid, p.33.
54. Ibid, p.32.
55. Ibid, p.32.
56. Ibid, p.33.
57. Ibid, p.35.
58. Ibid, p.36.
59. Ibid, p.36.
60. Ibid, p.36.
61. Ibid, p.37.
62. Ibid, p.37
63. Schreiner, op. cit, note 2, p.68.
64. Reichenbach, Bruce R., in Beilby, James and Eddy, Paul R., (Eds.) The Nature of Atonement: Four Views, Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic (2006), p.59. 
65. Ibid, p.59.
66. Ibid, p.59.
67. Ibid. p.59.
68. Ibid, p.55-56.
69. Ibid, p.56.
70. Booher, H R. Christianity’s Lost Dispensations  (Chap 12,13) 2010, The Word of Truth Ministry, 228 North El Molino Avenue; Pasadena, CA. The concept of the dispensation of the grace of God being an absolute universal method of God dealing with mankind was first introduced to me by Otis Sellers. His beliefs are discussed in Otis Sellers, “The Dispensation of the Grace of God” 1947; and Seed and Bread” Vol. 1, “The Dispensation of Grace,” No. 57. The Word of Truth Ministry, 228 North El Molino Avenue; Pasadena, CA
71. Joel Green (op, cit, note 33, p.169) in the “Kaleidoscopic View” of the atonement comments on Penal Substitution (PS) in a way that illustrates how prominent PS is: “[T]he model of penal substitutionary atonement is so pervasive in American Christianity that many Christians wonder whether the saving significance of Jesus’ death can be understood in any other way.”
72. Schreiner, op. cit, note 2, p.94.
73. Ibid, p.88. 
74. Boyd, op. cit, note 28, p.44.
75. Ibid, p.44,
76. Ibid, p.99-100.
77. For complete discussions on the Dispensation of Grace see: Booher and Sellers, op. cit., note 70.
78. During the beginning of Christianity (Acts 1 through Acts 28:28) God dealt with mankind on merit.  Ananias and Sapphira died for the sin of misrepresenting their gifts to God (Acts 5:1-10).  Simon the sorcerer was threatened with death unless he repented of wickedness (Acts 8:9-24). Cornelius’ merit was recognized and rewarded by the Holy Ghost through Peter (Acts 10:2-48). Herod died because he failed to give glory to God (Acts 12:21-23).  Bar-jesus was stricken with blindness because he withstood the gospel (Acts 13:6-11). Corinthians were sick and some were dead because of eating the Passover bread and drinking the Passover cup in an unworthy manner 1 Cor 11:29-30).
79. After Acts 28:28 a new dispensation of grace was introduced into the world. This new secret administration was announced to the saints by Paul (Eph 3:2-3, 5, 8-9; Col 1:25-26). Beginning with the dispensation of grace God deals with mankind only through grace.   Before Acts 28:28 Paul could heal by word, handkerchief, or his touch (Acts 19:12; 28:8-9.)  He could handle poisonous snakes and not be harmed (Acts 28:3-6). John was beheaded during Jesus ministry, but Paul after being stoned to death in Acts, got up and walked away with no hint of permanent harm (Acts 14:19-20). He could be beaten, stoned and drowned, yet did not die (II Cor. 11).  After Acts 28:28 such powers were gone.  He could not heal even his best friends. Epaphroditus, whom Paul describes as “my brother, and companion in labor, and fellow soldier,” who when in Rome visiting Paul became ill with a sickness that Paul describes as “nigh unto death.”  In the dispensation of grace there was no longer miraculous healing.  It took time, rest, and good care before he could return to Philippi. (Phil. 2:5-30). Later he advises Timothy to take wine for his stomach’s sake and for his repeated infirmities (I Tim 5:23). Finally, he is forced to abandon his traveling companion Trophemus at Miletum because he was sick (2 Tim. 4:20).  Before Acts 28:28 Christians has spiritual gifts like prophecy and speaking in tongues (I Cor. 12,14).  After Acts 28:28 Christians had no special gifts. All were under grace and urged to do good works such as caring for the poor and widows and preaching the gospel in and out of season. Before Acts 28:28 people were frequently punished by God for wrongdoing (see note 78 above). In contrast the last seven epistles will be searched in vain to find a single example of God punishing anyone for wrongdoing.  In fact the last days described by Paul in 2 Timothy (3:13) predict evil will wax worse and worse. God will not judge or punish even the most wicked acts until He brings in His kingdom.
80. Boyd, op. cit., note 28, p.37, n.23.
81. Schreiner, op. cit., note 2, p.96
82. There would have been no need for Jesus to die on the cross for everyone’s sins if a holy, righteous God did not exist. No one can enter His presence if the sins are not washed away. Jesus did that for mankind.  God accepted the perfect sacrifice to cover all sins. However in the long run there will be those who resist a sovereign God. One of the tools still in God’s armory is His ability and willingness to destroy that which is not holy and righteous (especially if He has tried everything else within His enduring patience, fairness, and grace).
83. James, op. cit., note 1, p. 238.