Was the Atonement Really Necessary? (part 2)

Be sure to read part 1: Was the Atonement Necessary?.

For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. (Lv 17:11)

And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. (He 9:22)


The Protestant View

In the 11th Century, a Benedictine monk named Anselm of Canterbury wrote one of the most important books in Christendom – Cur Deus Homo – Why God Became Man. The following blurb from Wikipedia gives a snapshot of the work:

He has introduced the idea of satisfaction as the chief demand of the nature of God, of punishment as a possible alternative of satisfaction and equally fulfilling the requirements of justice thus opening the way to the assertion of punishment as the true satisfaction of the law. In his view, God’s offended honor and dignity could only be satisfied by the sacrifice of the God-man, Jesus Christ. Anselm undertook to explain the rational necessity of the Christian mystery of the atonement. His philosophy rests on three positions—first, that satisfaction is necessary on account of God’s honour and justice; second, that such satisfaction can be given only by the peculiar personality of the God-man Jesus; and, third, that such satisfaction is really given by this God-man’s voluntary death.

So, according to Anselm, a trespass against the Holiness of God requires an infinite sacrifice and the only being capable of supplying an infinite propitiation was very God Himself. Thus only by entering into His own creation is satisfaction possible, and that by a Divine substitution. Although Anselm’s view was rejected by later scholastics, Anselm had always had his followers, and later his philosophy became the basis for the Protestant view concerning the atonement.

According to John Murray, Anselm’s view is, by theologians, called: “Consequent Absolute Necessity”. According to Murray, the term ‘consequent‘ implies that God’s will is of “free and sovereign grace.” The term ‘absolute necessity‘ indicates that “God, having elected some to everlasting life out of his mere good pleasure, was under the necessity of accomplishing this purpose through the sacrifice of His own Son” [12].



Well, philosophical terms are all fine and good, but the real question that must be asked and answered is not what does philosophy say? or what does Anselm say? or what do the Protestants believe? etc. The only questions that must be answered are: do the Scriptures speak to this issue? and, if so, what do the Scriptures say?

In Dr. Murray’s book, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, he discusses the necessity of the atonement in chapter 1 and defends Anselm’s view. He does so on the basis of many arguments that I won’t elaborate here, including the obvious one: why would Christ suffer such humiliation and torture and the weight of sin and forsaking His father, if it was not absolutely necessary to do so? The thought is beyond absurd and leads one into an impious theology. Dr. Murray, for his part, concedes that the Scripture does not explicitly state that this was the absolutely only way to redeem fallen man, but he does believe that Scriptures concerning the atonement, when taken as a whole, do lead one to believe that this must indeed be the case.

A few of the Scriptures that Murray briefly expounds are listed below…

Hebrews 2:10

For it became him, for whom [are] all things, and by whom [are] all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

A helpful quote from Wuest’s Word Studies:

The fact that God the Father decreed that it must be through the blood of Christ’s Cross that the Captain of our salvation would become the Saviour of sinners, did not find its origin in a divine fiat, but in the very constitution of the nature of God. A holy God cannot look upon sin with any degree of allowance. A righteous God cannot but require that the demands of the violated law be satisfied. And a loving God cannot but provide the very payment of the penalty which His law demands. Thus, the writer shows the sweet reasonableness of the Cross. And because only God can satisfy the demands of God, so only the Messiah who is one of the Persons of the Godhead, could in the great plan of salvation, provide the sacrifice. God the Father provides the salvation, God the Son procures it, and God the Holy Spirit applies it.

Note: “Captain” in the original Greek has semantic range: beginning, origination, leader, chief, captain, leader, first cause, originator, etc. Perhaps this is in reference to Christ’s role as Federal Head and surety for His people.

Hebrews 2:17

Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto [his] brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things [pertaining] to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.

Since Wuest was so brilliant above, we quote him here again:

The words “it behooved” are in the Greek text ὀφείλω, which speaks of an obligation imposed upon one by reason of a certain consideration. Here the consideration is that of the position our Lord assumed as the One who would come to the aid of lost sinners. The obligation arising out of this position was that in order to provide a salvation for the human race, He had to become like the human race, namely, Man, for a priest must always partake of the nature of the one for whom he officiates. Thus, the incarnation was a necessity in the nature of the case.

Hebrews 9:14-28

How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, …For where a testament [is], there must also of necessity be the death of the testator …all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. [It was] therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, [which are] the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us…

There is simply too much in this passage to walk through it verse by verse, but it should be sufficient to say that we understand that under the Old Covenant, God passed over the sins of the people on account of a blood sacrifice. If the Old Covenant ceremonial law served as a shadow of the spiritual reality found in Christ, and under that law a blood sacrifice was necessary in order to atone for sin; how much more necessary that Christ, the one true sacrifice, the anti-type toward which all the Old Covenant types pointed, must be necessary to atone for sin.

Some of the arguments of Murray…

That should suffice to present a taste of what Murray uses to defend the understand that Christ’s death and suffering was necessary in order to secure the salvation of mankind. To learn more about this topic, read the book of Hebrews, study the necessity for God to punish sin, study all the phrases of Scripture that define Christ’s death in vicarious language, read Murray full argument in chapter 1 of his book, and read Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo.

Note: I’ve not read Anselm’s Work and I cannot vouch for its Orthodoxy.

“…apart from blood-shedding forgiveness doth not come.”
(Geneva Bible, Heb 9:22)


4 thoughts on “Was the Atonement Really Necessary? (part 2)

  1. Andrew,

    Excellent synopsis. Very thought provoking. Thank you for taking the time to put it together.

    It seems to me that at no time or place has the triune Jehovah been glorified more than as His eternally begotten, darling Son hung humiliated, mutilated and naked for the world to mock upon the cross. There he bore the sins of the elect of God and the wrath of God against those sins and accomplished redemption for God’s elect with His own blood.

    The Lord Jesus Christ is absolutely victorius over sin, death, the grave, hell and the devil. Undeniable proof came on the morning of the third day as He arose triumphant to life everlasting!

    Glory to the Name of our triune Jehovah!

  2. Thanks Brother Coleman.

    …at no time or place has the triune Jehovah been glorified more than as His eternally begotten, darling Son hung humiliated, mutilated and naked for the world to mock upon the cross.

    Well said, my friend.

    The Lord Jesus Christ is absolutely victorius…


    Sorry about all the typos. I need to clean it up a bit.

    Thanks to Dr. Murray for stimulating such insight into Scripture.

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