Commercial Theory of the Atonement

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The Commercial Theory of the Atonement was first set forth by Anselm (A.D. 1033-1109) which is the theory that sin robbed God of his honor. Therefore, it was necessary to have God's honor restored by either punishing sinners or through an atonement.  God chose to atone by the death of Christ which brought honor to God and the reward which was passed on to sinners.1

The problem with this theory is that the motivation of God's atoning work is holiness rather than love. John 3:16 says that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…"  Also, there are no verses that suggest it was God's holiness that was the motivation for the atoning work. This theory also ignores the legal aspect of Christ's atonement.

  • “the commercial theory.” Anselm stressed the absolute necessity of the atonement by grounding it in the very nature of God. According to him sin consists in the creature’s withholding from God the honor which is His due. By the sin of man God was robbed of His honor, and it was necessary that this should be vindicated. This could be done in either of two ways: by punishment or by satisfaction." (Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology (Kindle Locations 7771-7774). Kindle Edition)
  1. "It is not consistent in its representation of the necessity of the atonement. It ostensibly does not ground this necessity in the justice of God which cannot brook sin, but in the honor of God which calls for amends or reparation." 2
  2. "This theory really has no place for the idea that Christ by suffering endured the penalty of sin, and that His suffering was strictly vicarious."3
  3. "The scheme is also one-sided and therefore insufficient in that it bases redemption exclusively on the death of Christ, conceived as a material contribution to the honor of God, and excludes the active obedience of Christ as a contributing factor to His atoning work. The whole emphasis is on the death of Christ, and no justice is done to the redemptive significance of His life."4



  • 1. Enns, Paul P. The Moody Handbook of Theology, p. 320
  • 2. Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology (Kindle Locations 7781-7782). Kindle Edition.
  • 3. ibid., Berkhof, Kindle Locations 7784-7785
  • 4. ibid., Berkhof, Kindle Locations 7787-7790

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.