Talk:Governmental theory of atonement

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Flex - The governmental view of the atonement is, in fact, a substitutionary theory, as argued by John Miley and J. Kenneth Grider in the links provided. To state that, "This view is contrasted with that of the substitutionary theory..." is incorrect. It is to be contrasted with a satisfaction or punishment model (or, certainly, more subjective theories as argued in more liberal theological systems), but is a substitutionary perspective (Jesus' suffering death as a substitute for our punishment). KHM03 19:07, 18 Apr 2005 (UTC)

I agree. Between the page on Arminianism, this page, and the page on Propitiation, there is simply a contradiction in the air. In particular, this paragraph from this article:
Christ's suffering, according to governmental theory, was a real and meaningful substitute for the punishment humans deserve, but Christ was not punished on behalf of the human race. Instead, God publicly demonstrated his displeasure with sin by punishing his own sinless and obedient Son as a propitiation. Because Christ's suffering and death served as a subsititute for the punishment humans might have received, God is able to extend forgiveness while maintaining divine order, having demonstrated the seriousness of sin and thus appeasing his wrath.
is incoherent. If Christ's suffering and death served as a substitute for punishment humans might have received, then Christ *was* punished on behalf of the human race. FWIW, my understanding of the governmental theory has always been (a) Christ died for God's people as a whole, not as individuals; and (b) therefore, Christ's death secured the potential for forgiveness of individuals, which is not actualized until the moment of faith, which moment unites them with God's people and secures the benefits of the atonement. However, I would want to do more research before making a massive edit to this page. Discuss? --jrcagle 05:16, 7 December 2005 (UTC)

It may be a semantic difference, but semantics are still important! According to both Miley and Grider (arguably the two "experts" on this view in the last 200 years), Christ's death served as a substitute for our punishment, and was not himself punished. I don't think your final claims are necessarily false. Look at this and this. KHM03 11:20, 7 December 2005 (UTC)

Thanks for the links. I found them quite helpful, although I am still bewildered. For the sake of the article, it would be helpful to clarify...
1) What is the precise difference between
...substitution of the guiltless Christ's suffering for the punishment that those who repent and believe would have received in eternal hell... (Grider's summary of gov. th.), and
...His punishment is a substitution for the punishment the elect would have received in hell...? (ibid, summary of subst. th.)
I understand that there is a theoretical difference in scope (those who repent and believe v. the elect, although those two sets might contain the same elements in a Calvinist theory). I can see that Grider wants to distinguish "guiltless Christ's suffering" from "punishment." But I cannot parse that difference. Is the diffence found in God the Father's intentions toward Jesus himself? (i.e., God was or was not wrathful towards Jesus on the cross?)
2) How does a governmental theorist understand Heb. 9 - 12 in which Jesus is represented as an "offering for sins" or "sacrifice of atonement"? In what sense is Jesus offered? In what sense does the shedding of his blood provide forgiveness?
Sorry to be dense! But I think my confusion has something to do with the overall (apparent?) incoherence I mentioned above. --jrcagle 18:49, 7 December 2005 (UTC)

Regarding the Elect, I believe that Arminians/Wesleyans would say that "the Elect" are synonomous with "those who repent & believe". The penitence and belief is what makes them the Elect.

The Father's wrath (acc. to governmental theory) was not visited upon Jesus on the cross, but was dealt with by the cross.

Governmental theory affirms Jesus' sufferinng & death as an offering and a sacrifice. Jesus offered himself (God offering God) as a substitute for the punishment due humankind for sin. Grider (et al) prefer the term propitiation to the more generic terms in the NIV (such as "atoning sacrifice"), which in part explains your question about Jesus' blood (surprising that Grider is critical of the NIV here, since he was one of the translators of the NIV!). KHM03 00:43, 8 December 2005 (UTC)

So: all three theories agree that Christ's death was substitutionary in some sense. Punishment theory holds that God's wrath towards man was expended instead on Christ. Satisfaction theory holds that the debt of guilt owed by man to God was satisfied by Christ's act of obedience in going to the cross. Governmental theory holds that Christ suffered on the cross at the hands of men, being offered up by the Father, but was not Himself directly punished by the Father. This suffering then substitutes for the punishment to be visited on people, conditioned on their belief. Is this correct? Is the difference located in who is causing Christ's suffering?
The major source of confusion is that "suffering" and "punishment" are synonymous in many peoples' minds. Hence, the governmental theory can appear to be making a distinction without a difference. If something can be done to help clarify that difference, I think the article would improve greatly. I found this paragraph in Grider to be helpful in understanding the motivation behind the distinction:
The reason why Scripture teaches that Christ suffered for us instead of being punished is, in part, because He was sinless and therfore guiltless. It is also in part because God the Father really does forgive us, whereas, if He punished Christ instead of us, He could not then have forgiven us. In Christ's substitutionary punishment, justice would have been satisfied, procluding forgiveness. One cannot both punish and forgive; surely a parent could not.
Also, it might be helpful to explain the mechanism of salvation in the governmental theory: that Christ's death substitutes for the punishment of the body of his people; and that belief causes one to participate in that body, while subsequent unbelief can cause subsequent removal. It seems to me that the structure of salvation in the governmental theory is at least as important to the overall picture as the nature of Christ's death (hence the term "governmental"). Fair?
Finally, should the article contain any objections or external links to objections to governmental theory? I would like for it to have a parallel structure with the substitutionary atonement article. I would also like for the Atonement (Satisfaction view) article to get up to speed, but that's another issue :-) -- 22:15, 8 December 2005 (UTC)
weird...that should read jrcagle-- 22:16, 8 December 2005 (UTC)

Go ahead and make your edits; I (or someone else) will edit them as needed. Thanks...KHM03 01:39, 9 December 2005 (UTC)



  • (12/9/05) Tweaked wording, attempting to clarify the difference between "suffering for" and "receiving the punishment for."
  • Added paragraph on the scope of the atonement. I'm now nervous about it, because I can't find any online sources to substantiate the paragraph directly, although it is strongly implied by Grider and Miley. My own source is Everett Ferguson's The Church of Christ (Eerdmans), pp. 152, 160-161, 191-195, 203 - 205. However, it is difficult to discern how much of his view is reflective of the Governmental theory and how much is reflective of his Church of Christ background.
  • Added Pros/Cons external links (all previous links kept under Pros section)
  • Added See Also section (modded from Atonement article)
  • Added link to Edward's article that gives rise to question about his Governmental/Punishment leanings.


  • Find online trans. of Grotius' Defensio fidei catholicae de satisfactione Christi
  • (possibly) include Objections section.

I'm not wedded to any of these changes. :-)

--jrcagle 04:42, 10 December 2005 (UTC)

Looks good! KHM03 12:59, 10 December 2005 (UTC)

May I suggest some discussion of modern exponents of these views be included. Perhaps the views found on These writings revive some of the doctrines of the Trinity as taught by St Ambrose. Their discussion on the trinity is relevant here. Punishment theories require the Father and the Son to have two different attitudes to sinful mankind, the Father angry and the Son appeasing..does such material fit here, or perhaps some links to related ideas perhaps?Issakara 00:54, 5 June 2007 (UTC)

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