Theories of Atonement: Commercial Theory

This theory is also known as the Anselmic theory as it was set forth by Anselm in the 11th century.  Through sin God was robbed of his honor and a resolution had to be reached that would require satisfaction or punishment of the sinner[1].  It was this conflict between God wanting to punish and the love of God that caused the God-man to suffer and make satisfaction for the sinner.  The 19th century theologian A.H. Strong states, “while the love of God pleads for the sparing of the guilty; that this conflict of divine attributes is eternally reconciled by the voluntary sacrifice of the God-man, who bears in virtue of the dignity of his person the intensively infinite punishment of sin, which must otherwise have been suffered extensively and eternally by sinners; that this suffering of the God-man presents to the divine majesty an exact equivalent for the deserved sufferings of the elect; and that, as the result of this satisfaction of the divine claims, the elect sinners are pardoned and regenerated[2].”

Christ was obedient to the wish of his Father, and through his death was rewarded.  He then rewarded this gift to the sinners of the world.  In fulfilling this service on the cross he went beyond the call of duty, and this brought honor to God[3].  Christ was sinless, and as a result did not deserve death.  Therefore his death was the satisfaction that God needed to forgive sin.

A primary scriptural passage for the theory is John 10:18 which states, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from My Father[4].”  This passage, along with logic, were the primary drivers behind the theory that Anselm developed.  The theory was widely accepted and came to replace the Ransom to Satan Theory in the medieval church[5].  However no theory about the atonement is complete if all the elements are not presented[6].

The mercy of God is greatly emphasized in the Commercial theory, and sometimes this is at the expense of His justice and holiness[7].  There is little emphasis on the suffering that the savior endured to save his people.  The Commercial theory was also steeped in the Roman Catholic penitential system.  This is best summed up by Anselm himself who stated, “in making satisfaction for his sin, should man honor God by conquering the devil with the greatest possible difficulty[8].”

[1] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014), 333.

[2] A.h. Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society, 1907), 797.

[3] D. Martyn Lloyd-jones, Great Doctrines of the Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1996), 312.

[4] John 10:18 (Holman Christian Standard Bible).

[5] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 729.

[6] A.c. Hervey, Exposition and Homiletics (New York, NY: Funk &​ Wagnalls, 1994), 43.

[7] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014), 334.

[8] Anselm, St. Anselm:  PROSLOGIUM; MONOLOGIUM; AN APPENDIX IN BEHALF OF THE FOOL BY GAUNILON; AND CUR DEUS HOMO, trans. Sidney Norton Deane (Chicago, IL: Open Court Publishing Company, 1939), 258.

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