Why Did Jesus Die? 4 Views on the Atonement

The crucifixion of Jesus as depicted at the BibleWalk museum in Mansfield, Ohio.
The crucifixion of Jesus as depicted at the BibleWalk museum in Mansfield, Ohio. | (Photo: Courtesy of the BibleWalk Museum)

A fundamental belief of the Christian faith is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross for the sins of the world.

But why did Jesus have to die on a cross, as opposed to hypothetically living a long life and passing away of natural causes?

Throughout the history of Christianity, many theories and sub-theories on the doctrine of the atonement have manifested to explain the why of Jesus' death.

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These atonement theories, sometimes called models or perspectives, often overlap and can be at times confusing to differentiate.

Adonis Vidu, associate professor of Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, told The Christian Post that these ideas should be considered part of "larger families of theories, rather than single theories."

"Each theory is trying to preserve important biblical motifs. The contemporary discussion isn't so much about which theory is the right one, but about how the various models of the atonement are to be logically related to one another," explained Vidu.

"We have moved beyond thinking that we have to make a choice of one theory. Almost each theory affirms important truths; the question is how all of these truths weave a coherent and biblically faithful tapestry of the work of Christ."

There are four major categories of atonement models that are generally agreed upon by most theologians. They are showcased in no particular order. (Click arrow above)

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