Salvation and Victory by Christ’s Death and Resurrection in the Ancient Church

In: Journal of Reformed Theology
Riemer Roukema Protestant Theological University The Netherlands Amsterdam Groningen

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The theme of this article arises from Reformed theology, namely, how did authoritative Christian authors of the second to the fifth centuries AD think about salvation by Christ’s substitutionary and atoning death? How do their views relate to the ‘Christus Victor’ theology that is sometimes propagated nowadays as a more biblical alternative to the traditional Reformed soteriology, and which is considered the dominant approach in the ancient church? Can traces of Christ giving ‘satisfaction’ for God’s offended honor or for his wrath against sin be found in the first centuries? Did any church fathers hold that Christ vicariously bore God’s punishment for the sins of humankind? What was meant by the ransom that Christ had to pay, and to whom did he pay it: to God or to the devil, or were these considered invidious alternatives? This article demonstrates that in their interpretations of biblical texts, the church fathers did indeed address most of these questions. However, a continuous debate on such questions remained, so that the church of those centuries did not create a standard doctrine about the rationale of salvation by Christ, which testifies to varied understandings of it.

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