The old adage, “at one with God” is very true to this concept. The idea begins with an acknowledgement that we are at odds with God because we have offended God, sinning against God. This antagonism between God and us is caused by our sin, and cannot be lifted or remedied by us. God offers a solution in the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary as the remedy that God accepts. But God conditions this remedy from becoming effective ONLY IF we believe in Jesus as our Savior. Faith is the key around which atonement works. Faith has a basis, and it is not in a power within us, but in the confidence of God, that He has solved the situation through Jesus.
That the Bible’s central message is atonement, that is, that God has provided a way for humankind to come back into harmonious relation with him, is everywhere apparent in Scripture. From the first stories in Genesis to the last visions of Revelation, God seeks to reconcile his people to himself. Atonement, however, cannot be usefully discussed in this way, and translators have settled on it, and its cognate expressions, as a translation for a relatively circumscribed number of nouns and verbs in the Bible.
The Old Testament In the Old Testament atonement, and related phrases, such as sacrifice of atonement, most often translates the Hebrew piel verb kipur [ruPiK] and two related nouns, one, kippurim, found always in the plural and signifying the noun equivalent of kipur [ruPiK], and the other, kapporeth [t,roP;K], meaning the so-called mercy-seat or the place where the sacrifice of atonement happens. These occur with meanings related to atonement around 140 times, almost always in the context of the cults, as a sacrifice for sins and to provide reconciliation to God.
The breadth of the use of the concept in the Old Testament is striking. Atonement is provided for inanimate objects such as a mildewing house, the altar in the temple, the sanctuary (i.e., the Holy of Holies within the Tent of Meeting), the holy place, and the tent of meeting/temple itself. In one place atonement is also provided for an animal, the scapegoat used in the atonement rituals found in Leviticus 16. Sacrifice accomplishes atonement “for sins” in many places, though these passages always mean atonement for people “because of” their sins rather than atonement “on behalf of” sins, as if sins were being personified and therefore in need of redemption. Of course, the majority of all the references are to atonement on behalf of people, either individually or as members of the community of Israel.
Atonement for inanimate objects is found twelve places in the Old Testament: ex 29:36-37; 30:10; le 8:15; 14:53; 16:10, 16, 18, 20; eze 43:20, 26; 45:20. Eleven of these passages refer to cleansing either the tent/temple, one of its rooms, or the altar inside it. The lone exception refers to the cleansing of a contaminated house. In one of the stranger passages of the Law, God instructs Moses and Aaron about the purification rites they are to apply to a house that has “a spreading mildew” and declares that, if a house responds to the treatment, then it can be declared clean (Lev 14:33-53). The priest cleanses the house by sacrificing a bird, and dipping cedar wood, hyssop, scarlet yarn, and a live bird in the blood of the dead bird, then sprinkling the blood on the house seven times. He then is to release the live bird into the open fields outside the town. “In this way he will make atonement for the house, and it will be clean” (Lev 14:53).
The entire passage significantly echoes the preceding passage in which a human being undergoes the same investigations and purifications for infectious skin diseases, and it anticipates the important regulations of Leviticus 16 concerning the Day of Atonement, the most important sacrifice of all, when sacrifice is made for the cleansing of the sins of all the people. The point is apparently that the surface of the skin can demonstrate a deeper sickness underneath as can the surface of a house; both need to be cleansed of that deeper sickness as does the human heart of its sin.
Far more important are the references to the atonement of the Tent of Meeting, the temple, the holy place, the sanctuary, and the altar. These take place in the contexts of the ordination of priests (Exod 29:35-37; Lev 8:15), God’s instructions for the building of the eschatological temple in the later chapters of Ezekiel (43:20, 26; 45:20), and the Day of Atonement itself (Lev 16:16,18,20). The need for cleansing the buildings, the altar and the sanctuaries is due to the fact that these are the meeting places of the divine, Holy One with his people. The holiness and purity of God are so emphasized that not only does he and the one who approaches him have to be pure, but even the means of their communication and relationship must be covered by the blood of an atoning sacrifice because of its contamination by sin.
It is perhaps important that this cleansing of inanimate objects, with the lone exception of the house (which seems to serve as an analog to human cleansing), is limited to the house of God and its parts. There is no sense that the world is God’s place of meeting and in need of a cleansing sacrifice of atonement, but rather that the special cultic and covenantal relationship that God has with his people is what is in need of purification. This is not to deny that the world has been infected by sin, just that the particular relationship of redemption that God has with his covenant people is not extended to the whole world, but simply to the people of Israel, and even that is vicarious, that is, through the priests and their cultic duties.
Primary among the objects of atonement in the Old Testament are the people of God, but the means of atonement can vary. Goats, sheep, and birds are listed among the acceptable animals to be sacrificed, but there were also grain, oil, and drink offerings. Ransom money can provide atonement for the lives of the people; God commands at least one census to be made of the people at which each participant pays the same amount to buy his life and the lives of his family from God, who promises no plague will harm them when they do pay (Exod 30:11-16). Significantly, the money is to be used to support the services of the Tent of Meeting, hence tying it to the sacrifice of blood for atonement, if only in a tangential way. The other nonanimal sacrifices are often equally tied to atonement by blood.
Certainly the most frequently mentioned means of atonement in the Old Testament were the blood sacrifices, dominating the use of the term by constant reference in the books of Leviticus and Numbers. Atonement needed to be made for everything from heinous crimes like idolatry (Num 16:47) to mistakes of intent, when the only sin was ignorance or error, not willful disobedience (Num 15:22-29).
Perhaps the heart of the Old Testament teaching on atonement is found in Leviticus 16, where the regulations for the Day of Atonement occur. Five characteristics relating to the ritual of the Day of Atonement are worthy of note because they are generally true of atonement as it is found throughout Scripture: (1) the sovereignty of God in atonement; (2) the purpose and result of making atonement; (3) the two goats emphasize two different things, and the burning another, about the removal of sin; (4) that Aaron had to make special sacrifice for himself; (5) the comprehensive quality of the act.
Atonement is clearly the action of God and not of man throughout the Bible, but especially in Leviticus 16. Aaron’s two sons, Nadab and Abihu, had been recently put to death by the Lord for disobeying his command by offering “unauthorized fire” before the Lord (Lev 10:1-3). Here God gives Aaron precise instructions concerning how he wants the sacrifices to be made, down to the clothes Aaron is to wear, the bathing rituals in which he is to engage, and the types of sacrificial animals he is to bring. His sovereignty is further emphasized by the fact that the lot is used to choose which goat will be sacrificed and which goat will serve as the scapegoat.
The purpose for the ritual is made very clear in several places. It is to cleanse you “from all your sins” (Lev 16:30). Other passages make it clear that such cleansing results in saving the life of the participant (cf., e.g., Lev 17:11). The restoring of pure relationship is an important result, too, since the atonement is for all “uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been” (Lev 16:16). Thus Israel is reunited in purity to its God by the atoning sacrifice for sins.
The symbolic import of the sacrifices is so detailed that three different actions were necessary to display everything that God apparently intended us to understand about the way he was to deal with sin. The sacrificial death of the first goat showed clearly that the offense of sin requires the punishment of death (Eze 18:4). The sending of the second goat into the wilderness with the sins laid on the top of its head emphasizes that sin will be removed from the person and the community “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). The burning of the sacrifice so that it is consumed shows the power of God over sin, completely destroying it so that it can bother the supplicant no more.
Particularly important for the full biblical picture of atonement as it is found in Christ is the sacrifice Aaron makes for himself and his family (Lev 16:11-14). Everyone, even the high priest, is guilty and needs atonement that can only be provided by God himself. The author of Hebrews emphasizes this point to make clear his doctrine of the purity of Christ as both the true and perfect sacrifice and the true and perfect priest who performs the ritual of atonement (8:3-6; 9:6-15). The Old Testament sacrifices are shown to be but shadows of the real sacrifice of Christ on the cross by the fact of Aaron’s sinfulness; an imperfect high priest cannot offer a true sacrifice, just as the blood of bulls and goats could never truly pay for the offense of human sin or substitute for the shedding of human blood.
Lastly, atonement covers all the sins—intentional, unintentional, heinous, trivial—of those for whom it is intended. No one was to enter the Tent of Meeting until the ritual was over because what was taking place there was for the whole of the community of Israel (Lev 16:17), presumably because any interference with the sovereign action of God’s cleansing might bring an impurity into the equation that would nullify the purificatory act. The comprehensive nature of the sacrifice of atonement prefigures the comprehensiveness of the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross, but it limits its effects in the same way the Old Testament limits the effects of its sacrifice on the day of atonement—to the people whom God has elected to call his own and them alone.
The New Testament The so-called ransom saying, found in the Gospel of Mark (10:45; cf. the parallel saying at Matt 20:28), has been much disputed as to its authenticity, but its theological content is clear. Speaking in the context of the apostles’ dispute over which of them is the greatest, Jesus relates his mission to two things: serving all and giving his life as a ransom for many. Like many of the teachings of Jesus, the saying dramatically extends the answer to an immediate question or problem (that of the selfishness and pride of the apostles) to include something that no one would have linked to that problem (the ransom nature of the cross). The saying of course primarily relates the death of Christ to the metaphor of service; giving his life is the greatest example of servanthood that can be imagined. The fact that his death is also a ransom links the idea of atonement to the servant spirit of the Christ, probably in the light of the famous servant song of Isaiah 53.
The second Gospel passage relating to atonement appears in the eucharistic words of Jesus recorded in all three Gospels (Matt 26:26-29; = Mark 14:22-25; = Luke 22:15-20). At Luke 22:19-20, Jesus asserts that both the bread and the wine symbolize the fact that his death would be “for you” (huper humon [uJpevruJmw’n]), a phrase not found in the other Gospels (though the notion of the blood of Christ being “poured out for many” is found in both Matthew and Mark). The key element linking the passage in all three Gospels to atonement is the sacrificial nature of the language; the poured-out blood is the blood of the lamb of Leviticus 16, sacrificed “for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28).
To discuss Paul on atonement is, again, to make a choice between a thorough discussion of Paul’s soteriology and limiting oneself to a discussion of the meaning of hilasterion [iJlasthvrion] in Romans 3:25. Space does not even allow for a full evaluation of the latter in this article. The preponderance of the evidence weighs in favor of a translation that recognizes the background of Leviticus 16 in the crucial passage. Some now argue that Paul intends a quite specific reference to the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant and that hilasterion [iJlasthvrion] should be translated “mercy seat.”
In any case the passage occurs in a clear context of God’s righteous, wrathful judgment against the sins of humankind (Rom 1:18-3:31; cf. esp. 1:18; 2:5) and declares God’s merciful action of atonement on behalf of his people. He takes an action that is rightly called “substitutionary, ” putting his Son in our place and so remaining just but also demonstrating his mercy (3:25-26). This shuts out any possibility for humankind to boast of its having saved itself (3:27). Thus the themes of sovereignty, mercy, and comprehensiveness that we saw present in Leviticus 16 are paramount in the mind of Paul too.
The same applies to the rest of the references to hilasterion and its cognates (hilaskomai [iJlasmov”], hilasmos [iJlasmov”]) in the New Testament. Hebrews 2:17 points squarely at Jesus as the high priests of Leviticus 16 who offers a sacrifice of atonement (hilaskomai [iJlavskomai]) for his brothers and is therefore a merciful and faithful high priest, but who is of course also the very sacrifice he offers, suffering so that he is able to help those who are tempted in their time of need. The oneness both between Jesus and the redeemed and between God and humanity is emphasized by the family metaphor used throughout the context of the passage (Heb 2:10-17). Similarly, in 1 John 2:2 Jesus’ sacrifice of atonement (hilasmos [iJlasmov”]) is powerful enough to heal the sins of the whole world and unite it to God, but it is only “Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1) who can accomplish this. God’s sovereignty and love in atonement are clearly seen in 1jo 4:10 and cap the New Testament teaching on this essential doctrine: our love for God is not the issue, but rather his for us and it is this love that has both motivated and produced the sacrifice of atonement (hilasmos [iJlasmov”]) necessary for healing the relationship of God to man. So the biblical teaching about atonement is summed up: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jo 4:10).
Andrew H. Trotter, Jr.
See also Cross, Crucifixion; Death of Christ
Bibliography. C. Brown, H.-G. Link, and H. Vorlä der, NIDNTT, 3:145-76; W. Elwell, EDT, pp. 98-100; J. B. Green, DPL, pp. 201-9; idem, EDT, pp. 146-63; J. M. Gundry-Volf, DPL, pp. 279-84; M. Hengel, The Atonement: The Origins of Doctrine in the New Testament; A. McGrath, DPL, pp. 192-97; L. Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross; idem, EDT, pp. 97, 100-102; S. Page, EDT, pp. 660-62; V. Taylor, The Atonement in New Testament Teaching; R. Wallace, The Atoning Death of Christ; H.-R. Weber, The Cross: Tradition and Interpretation.
[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave’s Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton’s Bible Dictionary
Atonement may be defined as that act of dealing with sin whereby sin’s penalty is paid and sinners are brought into a right relation with God. In the Old Testament the word is used mainly in connection with the offering of sacrifices for sin. The word does not occur in most versions of the New Testament, but it is used broadly in the language of theology in relation to the sacrificial death of Christ.
One result of universal human sin is that all people are under God’s judgment. They are guilty, the penalty is death, and they cannot, by their own efforts, escape this penalty. They are cut off from God and there is no way they can bring themselves back to God (Psa 14:3; Isa 59:2; Rom 1:18; 3:20,23; 6:23; see SIN). God, however, gives them a way by which they may obtain forgiveness and be brought back to God. This is through the blood of a sacrifice, where blood is symbolic of the life of the innocent victim laid down as substitute for the guilty sinner (Lev 17:11; Heb 9:22; 1Jo 4:10; see BLOOD).
Atonement is therefore not something that people can achieve by their own efforts, but something that God provides. Whether in Old or New Testament times, forgiveness is solely by God’s grace and sinners receive it by faith (Psa 32:5; 51:17; Mic 7:18; Eph 2:8). The Old Testament sacrifices were not a way of salvation. They were a means by which repentant sinners could demonstrate their faith in God and at the same time see what their atonement involved. The sacrifices showed them how it was possible for God to act rightly in punishing sin while forgiving repentant sinners. (See JUSTIFICATION; PROPITIATION; RECONCILIATION; REDEMPTION; SACRIFICE; SANCTIFICATION.)
The sacrifices of the Old Testament pointed to the one great sacrifice that is the only basis on which God can forgive a person’s sins, the death of Christ. Through that death God is able justly to forgive the sins of all who turn to him in faith, no matter what era they might have lived in (Mat 26:28; Rom 3:25-26; 4:25; Heb 9:15; 1Pe 2:24). (See also DAY OF ATONEMENT.)
The satisfaction offered to divine justice for the sins of mankind by the death of Jesus Christ; by virtue of which all true penitents believing in Christ are reconciled to God, are freed from the penalty of their sins, and entitled to eternal life. The atonement by Jesus Christ is the great distinguishing peculiarity of the gospel, and is presented in a great variety of terms and illustrations in both the Old Testament and the New. See REDEMPTION, SACRIFICES.
The English word atonement originally denoted the reconciliation of parties previously at variance. It is used in the Old Testament to translate a Hebrew word which means a covering; implying that by a Divine propitiation the sinner is covered from the just anger of God. This is actually effected by the death of Christ; while the ceremonial offerings of the Jewish church only secured from impending temporal judgments, and typified the blood of Jesus Christ which “cleanseth us from all sin.”
This word does not occur in the Authorized Version of the New Testament except in Rom. 5:11, where in the Revised Version the word “reconciliation” is used. In the Old Testament it is of frequent occurrence.
The meaning of the word is simply at-one-ment, i.e., the state of being at one or being reconciled, so that atonement is reconciliation. Thus it is used to denote the effect which flows from the death of Christ.
But the word is also used to denote that by which this reconciliation is brought about, viz., the death of Christ itself; and when so used it means satisfaction, and in this sense to make an atonement for one is to make satisfaction for his offences (Ex. 32:30; Lev. 4:26; 5:16; Num. 6:11), and, as regards the person, to reconcile, to propitiate God in his behalf.
By the atonement of Christ we generally mean his work by which he expiated our sins. But in Scripture usage the word denotes the reconciliation itself, and not the means by which it is effected. When speaking of Christ’s saving work, the word “satisfaction,” the word used by the theologians of the Reformation, is to be preferred to the word “atonement.” Christ’s satisfaction is all he did in the room and in behalf of sinners to satisfy the demands of the law and justice of God. Christ’s work consisted of suffering and obedience, and these were vicarious, i.e., were not merely for our benefit, but were in our stead, as the suffering and obedience of our vicar, or substitute. Our guilt is expiated by the punishment which our vicar bore, and thus God is rendered propitious, i.e., it is now consistent with his justice to manifest his love to transgressors. Expiation has been made for sin, i.e., it is covered. The means by which it is covered is vicarious satisfaction, and the result of its being covered is atonement or reconciliation. To make atonement is to do that by virtue of which alienation ceases and reconciliation is brought about. Christ’s mediatorial work and sufferings are the ground or efficient cause of reconciliation with God. They rectify the disturbed relations between God and man, taking away the obstacles interposed by sin to their fellowship and concord. The reconciliation is mutual, i.e., it is not only that of sinners toward God, but also and pre-eminently that of God toward sinners, effected by the sin-offering he himself provided, so that consistently with the other attributes of his character his love might flow forth in all its fulness of blessing to men. The primary idea presented to us in different forms throughout the Scripture is that the death of Christ is a satisfaction of infinite worth rendered to the law and justice of God (q.v.), and accepted by him in room of the very penalty man had incurred. It must also be constantly kept in mind that the atonement is not the cause but the consequence of God’s love to guilty men (John 3:16; Rom. 3:24, 25; Eph. 1:7; 1 John 1:9; 4:9). The atonement may also be regarded as necessary, not in an absolute but in a relative sense, i.e., if man is to be saved, there is no other way than this which God has devised and carried out (Ex. 34:7; Josh. 24:19; Ps. 5:4; 7:11; Nahum 1:2, 6; Rom. 3:5). This is God’s plan, clearly revealed; and that is enough for us to know.
(See RECONCILIATION) Literally, the being at one, after having been at variance. Tyndale explains “One Mediator” (1Ti 2:5): “at one maker between God and man.” To made atonement is to give or do that whereby alienation ceases and reconciliation ensues. “Reconciliation” is the equivalent term given for the same Hebrew word, kopher, in Dan 9:24; Lev 8:15; Eze 45:15. In the New Testament KJV once only “atonement” is used (Rom 5:11): “by whom (Christ) we have received the atonement” (katallage), where the reconciliation or atonement must be on God’s part toward us, for it could not well be said, “We have received the reconciliation on our part toward Him.”
Elsewhere the same Greek is translated “reconciliation” (2Co 5:18-19). A kindred term expressing a different aspect of the same truth is “propitiation” (hilasmos) (1Jo 2:2), the verb of which is in Heb 2:17 translated “to make reconciliation.” Also “ransom,” or payment for redeeming a captive (Job 33:24), kopher, “an atonement,” Mat 20:28. Heb 9:12; Christ, “having obtained eternal redemption for us” (lutrosis, the deliverance bought for us by His bloodshedding, the price: 1Pe 1:18).
The verb kipper ‘al, “to cover upon,” expresses the removing utterly out of sight the guilt of person or thing by a ransom, satisfaction, or substituted victim. The use of the word and the noun kopher, throughout the Old Testament, proves that, as applied to the atonement or reconciliation between God and man, it implies not merely what is man’s part in finding acceptance with God, but, in the first instance, what God’s justice required on His part, and what His love provided, to justify His entering into reconciliation with man. In Lev 1:4; Lev 4:26; Lev 5:1; Lev 5:16-18; Lev 5:16; Lev 17:11, the truth is established that the guilt is transferred from the sinful upon the innocent substitute, in order to make amends to violated justice, and to cover (atone: kipper’ al) or put out of sight the guilt (compare Mic 7:19 end), and to save the sinner from the wages of sin which is death.
On the great day of atonement the high priest made “atonement for the sanctuary, the tabernacle, and the altar” also, as well as for the priests and all the people; but it was the people’s sin that defiled the places so as to make them unfit for the presence of the Holy One. Unless the atonement was made the soul “bore its iniquity,” i.e. was under the penalty of death. The exceptions of atonement made with fine flour by one not able to afford the animal sacrifice (Lev 5:11), and by Aaron with incense on a sudden emergency (Num 16:47), confirm the rule. The blood was the medium of atonement, because it had the life or soul (nephesh) in it. The soul of the offered victim atoned for the soul of the sinful offerer.
The guiltless blood was given by God to be shed to atone for the forfeited blood of the guilty. The innocent victim pays the penalty of the offerer’s sin, death (Rom 6:28). This atonement was merely typical in the Old Testament sacrifices; real in the one only New Testament sacrifice, Christ Jesus. Kaphar and kopher is in Gen 6:14, “Thou shalt pitch the ark with pitch,” the instrument of covering the saved from the destroying flood outside, as Jesus’ blood interposes between believers and the flood of wrath that swallows up the lost. Jacob uses the same verb (Gen 32:20), “I will appease Esau with the present,” i.e., cover out of sight or turn away his wrath.
The “mercy-seat” whereat God meets man (being reconciled through the blood there sprinkled, and so man can meet God) is called kapporeth, i.e. flee lid of the ark, covering the law inside, which is fulfilled in Messiah who is called by the corresponding Greek term, hilasterion, “the propitiatory” or mercy-seat, “whom God hath set forth to be a propitiatory through faith in His blood” (Rom 3:23). God Himself made a coat (singular in Heb.) of skin, and clothed Adam and his wife (Gen 3:21). The animal cannot have been slain for food, for animal food was not permitted to man until after the flood (Gen 9:3); nor for clothing, for the fleece would afford that, without the needless killing of the animal. It must have been for sacrifice, the institution of which is presumed in the preference given to Abel’s sacrifice, above Cain’s offering of firstfruits, in Genesis 4.
Typically; God taught that the clothing for the soul must, be from the Victim whom God’s love provided to cover our guilt forever out of sight (Psalms 32:D (not kaphar, but kasah) (Rom 4:17; Isa 61:10), the same Hebrew (labash) as in Gen 3:21, “clothed.” The universal prevalence of propitiatory sacrifices over the pagan world implies a primitive revelation of the need of expiatory atonement, and of the inefficacy of repentance alone to remove guilt. This is the more remarkable in Hindostan, where it is considered criminal to take away the life of any animal. God’s righteous character and government interposed a barrier to sinful man’s pardon and reception into favor. The sinner’s mere desire for these blessings does not remove the barrier out of the way. Something needed to be done for him, not by him.
It was for God, against whom man sinned, to appoint the means for removing the barrier. The sinless Jesus’ sacrifice for, and instead of, us sinners was the mean so appointed. The sinner has simply by faith to embrace the means. And as the means, the vicarious atonement by Christ, is of God, it must be efficacious for salvation. Not that Jesus’ death induced God to love us; but because God loved us He gave Jesus to reconcile the claims of justice and mercy, “that God might be just and at the same time the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus” (Rom 3:26; 2Co 5:18-21). Jesus is, it is true, not said in Scripture to reconcile God to the sinner, because the reconciliation in the first instance emanated from God Himself. God reconciled us to Himself, i.e. restored us to His favor, by satisfying the claims of justice against us.
Christ’s atonement makes a change, not in God’s character as if God’s love was produced by it, but in our position judicially considered in the eye of the divine law. Christ’s sacrifice was the provision of God’s love, not its moving cause (Rom 8:32). Christ’s blood was the ransom paid at the expense of God Himself, to reconcile the exercise of mercy and justice, not as separate, but as the eternally harmonious attributes in the same God. God reconciles the world unto Himself, in the first instance, by satisfying His own just enmity against sin (Psa 7:11; Isa 12:1, compare 1Sa 29:4; “reconcile himself unto his master,” not remove his own anger against his master, but his master’s anger against him). Men’s reconciliation to God by laying aside their enmity is the after consequence of their believing that He has laid aside His judicial enmity against their sin.
Penal and vicarious satisfaction for our guilt to God’s law by Christ’s sacrificial death is taught Mat 20:28; “the Son of man came to give His life a ransom for (anti) many” (anti implies vicarious satisfaction in Mat 5:28; Mar 10:45). 1Ti 2:6; “who gave Himself a ransom for (antilutron, an equivalent payment in substitution for) all.” Eph 5:25; 1Pe 2:24; 1Pe 3:15; “the Just for the unjust … suffered for us.” Joh 1:29; “the Lamb of God taketh away the sin of the world.” 1Co 5:7; 1Pe 1:19; Joh 10:15; Rom 4:25; “He was delivered on account of (dia) our offenses, and raised again for the sake of (dia) our justification.” (Rev 1:5; Heb 9:13-14.) Conscience feels instinctively the penal claims of violated divine justice, and can only find peace when by faith it has realized that those claims have been fully met by our sacrificed substitute (Heb 9:9; Heb 10:1-2; Heb 10:22; 1Pe 3:21).
The conscience reflects the law and will of God, though that law condemns the man. Opponents of the doctrine of vicarious atonement say, “it exhibits God as less willing to forgive than His creatures are bound to be;” but man’s justice, which is the faint reflex of God’s, binds the judge, however lamenting the painful duty, to sentence the criminal to death as a satisfaction to outraged law. Also, “as taking delight in executing vengeance on sin, or yielding to the extremity of suffering what He withheld on considerations of mercy.” But the claim of God’s righteousness is not pressed apart from that of God’s love; both move in beautiful unity; the atonement is at once the brightest exhibition of His love and of His justice; it does not render God merciful, but opens a channel whereby love can flow in perfect harmony with His righteous law, yea “magnifying the law and making it honorable” (Isa 42:21).
At the same time it is a true remark of Macdonell (Donellan Lectures): “Christ’s work of redemption springs from an intimate relationship to those whom He redeems. It is not only because He suffers what they ought to have suffered that mercy becomes possible; but because He who suffered bore some mysterious relation to the spirits of those for whom He suffered; so that every pang He felt, and every act He did. vibrated to the extremities of that body of which He is the head, and placed not their acts, but the actors. themselves, in a new relation to the divine government and to the fountain of holiness and life.” It is only as Representative Head of humanity, that the Son of man, the second Adam, made full and adequate satisfaction for the whole race whose nature He took. He died sufficiently for all men; efficiently for the elect alone (Heb 2:9-15; 1Jo 2:2; Act 20:28; 2Pe 2:1; 1Ti 4:10).
Anything short of an adequate satisfaction would be so far an abatement; of divine justice; and if part of the sin might be forgiven without the satisfaction, why not all? If God can dispense with the claims of justice in part, He can as well do it altogether. A partial satisfaction would be almost more dishonoring to God’s righteousness than a gratuitous forgiveness without any satisfaction whatever. With God alone it rested to determine what is adequate satisfaction, and how it is to become available to each man, without injury to the cause of righteousness.
God has determined it, that in Christ’s infinite dignity of person and holiness above that of any creature, there is ensured the adequateness of the satisfaction, made by His obedience and suffering, to meet the claims of justice against those whose nature He voluntarily assumed; nay more, to set forth God’s glory more brightly than ever; also God has revealed that by believing the sinner becomes one with the Redeemer, and so rightly shares in the redemption wrought by Him the Head of the redeemed. No motive has ever been found so powerful as the sinner’s realization of the atonement, to create love in the human heart, constraining the accepted believer henceforth to shun all sin and press after all holiness in order to please God, who first loved him (Rom 8:1-3; 2Co 5:14-15; 1Jo 4:19).
a-ton’-ment: Translates kaphar; chaTa’; ratsah, the last employed only of human relations (1Sa 29:4); translates the following Greek stems hilas-, simple and compounded with various prepositions; allag- in composition only, but with numerous prepositions and even two at a time, e. g. Mt 5:24; lip- rarely (Da 9:24).
I. Terms Employed.
1. Hebrew and Greek Words:
The root meanings of the Hebrew words, taking them in the order cited above, are, to “cover,” hence expiate, condone, cancel, placate; to “offer,” or “receive a sin offering,” hence, make atonement, appease, propitiate; “effect reconciliation,” i. e. by some conduct, or course of action. Of the Greek words the meanings, in order, are “to be,” or “cause to be, friendly”; “to render other,” hence to restore; “to leave” and with preposition to leave off, i. e. enmity, or evil, etc. ; “to render holy,” “to set apart for”; hence, of the Deity, to appropriate or accept for Himself.
2. The English Word:
It is obvious that the English word “atonement” does not correspond etymologically with any Hebrew or Greek word which it translates. Furthermore, the Greek words in both Septuagint and New Testament do not correspond exactly to the Hebrew words; especially is it true that the root idea of the most frequently employed Hebrew word, “cover,” is not found in any of the Greek words employed. These remarks apply to both verbs and substantives The English word is derived from the phrase “at one,” and signifies, etymologically, harmony of relationship or unity of life, etc. It is a rare instance of an AS theological term; and, like all purely English terms employed in theology, takes its meaning, not from its origin, but from theological content of the thinking of the Continental and Latin-speaking Schoolmen who employed such English terms as seemed most nearly to convey to the hearers and readers their ideas. Not only was no effort made to convey the original Hebrew and Greek meanings by means of English words, but no effort was made toward uniformity in translating of Hebrew and Greek words by their English equivalents.
3. Not to Be Settled by Lexicon Merely:
It is at once clear that no mere word-study can determine the Bible teaching concerning atonement. Even when first employed for expressing Hebrew and Christian thought, these terms, like all other religious terms, already had a content that had grown up with their use, and it is by no means easy to tell how far heathen conceptions might be imported into our theology by a rigidly etymological study of terms employed. In any case such a study could only yield a dictionary of terms, whereas what we seek is a body of teaching, a circle of ideas, whatever words and phrases, or combinations of words and phrases, have been employed to express the teaching.
4. Not Chiefly a Study in Theology:
There is even greater danger of making the study of the Atonement a study in dogmatic theology. The frequent employment of the expression “the Atonement” shows this tendency. The work of Christ in reconciling the world to God has occupied so central a place in Christian dogmatics that the very term atonement has come to have a theological rather than a practical atmosphere, and it is by no means easy for the student, or even for the seeker after the saving relation with God, to pass beyond the accumulated interpretation of the Atonement and learn of atonement.
5. Notes on Use of Terms:
The history of the explanation of the Atonement and the terms of preaching atonement cannot, of course, be ignored. Nor can the original meaning of the terms employed and the manner of their use be neglected. There are significant features in the use of terms, and we have to take account of the history of interpretation. Only we must not bind ourselves nor the word of God in such forms.
(1) The most frequently employed Hebrew word, kaphar, is found in the Prophets only in the priestly section (Ezek 45:15; Ezek 45:20; Dan 9:24) where English Versions of the Bible have “make reconciliation,” margin, “purge away.” Furthermore, it is not found in Deuteronomy, which is the prophetic book of the Pentateuch (Hexateuch). This indicates that it is an essentially priestly conception. The same term is frequently translated by “reconcile,” construed as equivalent to “make atonement” (Lev 6:30; Lev 8:15; Lev 16:20; 1Sam 29:4; Ezek 45:15; Ezek 45:20; Dan 9:24). In this latter sense it connects itself with chaTa’. In 2Ch 29:24 both words are used: the priests make a sin offering chaTa’ to effect an atonement kaphar. But the first word is frequently used by metonymy to include, at least suggestively, the end in view, the reconciliation; and, on the other hand, the latter word is so used as to involve, also, doing that by which atonement is realized.
(2) Of the Greek words employed hilaskesthai means “to make propitious” (Heb 2:17; Lev 6:30; Lev 16:20; Ezek 45:20); allattein, used however only in composition with prepositions, means “to render other,” “to restore” to another (former?) condition of harmony (compare Mt 5:24 = “to be reconciled” to a fellow-man as a condition of making an acceptable sacrifice to God).s an essentially priestly conception. The same term is frequently translated by “reconcile,” construed as equivalent to “make atonement” (Lev 6:30; Lev 8:15; Lev 16:20; 1Sam 29:4; Ezek 45:15; Ezek 45:20; Dan 9:24). In this latter sense it connects itself with chaTa’. In 2Ch 29:24 both words are used: the priests make a sin offering chaTa’ to effect an atonement kaphar. But the first word is frequently used by metonymy to include, at least suggestively, the end in view, the reconciliation; and, on the other hand, the latter word is so used as to involve, also, doing that by which atonement is realized.
(3) In the English New Testament the word “atonement” is found only at Ro 5:11 and the American Standard Revised Version changes this to “reconciliation.” While in strict etymology this word need signify only the active or conscious exercise of unity of life or harmony of relations, the causative idea probably belongs to the original use of the term, as it certainly is present in all current Christian use of the term. As employed in Christian theology, both practical and technical, the term includes with more or less distinctness: (a) the fact of union with God, and this always looked upon as (b) a broken union to be restored or an ideal union to be realized, (c) the procuring cause of atonement, variously defined, (d) the crucial act wherein the union is effected, the work of God and the response of the soul in which the union becomes actual. Inasmuch as the reconciliation between man and God is always conceived of as effected through Jesus Christ (2Co 5:18-21) the expression, “the Atonement of Christ,” is one of the most frequent in Christian theology. Questions and controversies have turned mainly on the procuring cause of atonement, (c) above, and at this point have arisen the various “theories of the Atonement.”
II. Bible Teaching concerning Atonement in General:
The Atonement of Christ must be interpreted in connection with the conception of atonement in general in the Scriptures. This idea of atonement is, moreover, part of the general circle of fundamental ideas of the religion of Yahweh and Jesus. Theories of the Atonement root themselves in conceptions of the nature and character of God, His holiness, love, grace, mercy, etc.; of man, his nature, disposition and capacities; of sin and guilt.
1. Primary Assumption of Unity of God and Man:
The basal conception for the Bible doctrine of atonement is the assumption that God and man are ideally one in life and interests, so far as man’s true life and interest may be conceived as corresponding with those of God. Hence, it is everywhere assumed that God and man should be in all respects in harmonious relations, “at-one.” Such is the ideal picture of Adam and Eve in Eden. Such is the assumption in the parable of the Prodigal Son; man ought to be at home with God, at peace in the Father’s house (Lu 15).
Such also is the ideal of Jesus as seen especially in Joh 14-17; compare particularly 17:21ff; compare also Eph 2:11-22; 1Cor 15:28. This is quite possibly the underlying idea of all those offerings in which the priests–God’s representatives-and the people joined in eating at a common meal parts of what had been presented to God. The prohibition of the use of blood in food or drink is grounded on the statement that the life is in the blood (Le 17:10 f) or is the blood (Gen 9:4; Deut 12:23). Blood was used in the consecration of tabernacle, temple, vessels, altars, priests; all things and persons set apart for Yahweh. Then blood was required in offerings made to atone for sin and uncleanness. The reason for all this is not easy to see; but if we seek an explanation that will account for all the facts on a single principle, shall we not find it in the idea that in the life-principle of the blood God’s own life was present? Through this life from God all living beings shared God’s life. The blood passing out of any living being must therefore return to God and not be consumed. In sprinkling blood, the life-element, or certainly the life-symbol, over persons and things set apart for God they were, so to say, visibly taken up into the life of God, and His life extending over them made them essentially of His own person. Finally the blood of sacrifices was the returning to God of the life of the man for whom the beasts stood. And this blood was not burned with the dead sacrifice but poured out beside the holy altar. The now dead sin offering was burned, but the blood, the life, returned to God. In peace-offerings of various sorts there was the common meal in which the common life was typified.
In the claim of the first-fruits of all crops, of all flocks and of all increase, God emphasized the common life in production; asserted His claim to the total life of His people and their products. God claimed the lives of all as belonging essentially to Himself and a man must recognize this by paying a ransom price (Ex 30:12). This did not purchase for the man a right to his own life in separation from God, for it was in no sense an equivalent in value to the man’s time. It the rather committed the man to living the common life with God, without which recognition the man was not fit to live at all. And the use of this recognition-money by the priests in the temple was regarded as placing the man who paid his money in a sort of continuous worshipful service in the tabernacle (or temple) itself (Ex 30:11-16).
2. The Breach in the Unity:
In both Old Testament and New Testament the assumption of unity between God and man stands over against the contrasted fact that there is a radical breach in this unity. This breach is recognized in all God’s relations to men; and even when healed it is always subject to new failures which must be provided for, by the daily oblations in the Old Testament, by the continuous intercession of the Christ (Heb 7:25; Heb 9:24) in the New Testament. Even when there is no conscious breach, man is taught to recognize that it may exist and he must avail himself of the appointed means for its healing, e. g. daily sacrifices. This breach is universally attributed to some behavior on man’s part. This may be moral or ceremonial uncleanness on man’s part. He may have broken with God fundamentally in character or conduct and so by committing sin have incurred guilt; or he may have neglected the fitting recognition that his life is in common with God and so by his disregard have incurred uncleanness. After the first breach between God and man it is always necessary that man shall approach God on the assumption that this breach needs healing, and so always come with an offering. In human nature the sin breach is rooted and universal (Rom 3:9-19; Rom 5:12-14).
3. Means for Expressing, Restoring and Maintaining:
Numerous and various means were employed for expressing this essential unity of life, for restoring it since it was broken off in sin, and for maintaining it. These means were primarily spiritual and ethical but made extensive use of material substances, physical acts and symbolical ceremonials; and these tended always to obscure and supplant the spiritual and ethical qualities which it was their function to exhibit. The prophet came to the rescue of the spiritual and ethical and reached his highest insight and function in the doctrine of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh through whom God was to be united with a redeemed race (compare among many passages, Isa 49:1-7; Isa 66:18 ff; Ps 22:27 ff).
Atonement is conceived in both Old Testament and New Testament as partly personal and partly social, extending to the universal conception. The acts and attitudes by which it is procured, restored and maintained are partly those of the individual alone (Ps 51), partly those in which the individual secures the assistance of the priest or the priestly body, and partly such as the priest performs for the whole people on his own account. This involves the distinction that in Israel atonement was both personal and social, as also were both sin and uncleanness. Atonement was made for the group by the priest without specific participation by the people although they were, originally at least, to take cognizance of the fact and at the time. At all the great feasts, especially upon the (which see) the whole group was receptively to take conscious part in the work of atonement (Nu 29:7-11).
The various sacrifices and offerings by means of which atonement was effected in the life and worship of Israel will be found to be discussed under the proper words and are to be spoken of here only summarily. The series of offerings, guilt-offerings, burnt-offerings, sin-offerings, peace-offerings, reveal a sense of the breach with God, a conviction of the sin making the breach and an ethical appreciation of the holiness of God entirely unique among religions of ancient or modern times, and this fact must never be overlooked in interpreting the New Testament Christian doctrine of the Atonement. In the Old Testament there are sins and sinful circumstances for which no atonement is possible. Many passages, indeed, almost seem to provide against atonement for any voluntary wrongdoing (e. g. Lev 4:2; Lev 4:13; Lev 4:22; Lev 4:27; Lev 5:14 ff). T
his is, no doubt, an extreme interpretation, out of harmony with the general spirit of the Old Testament, but it does show how seriously sin ought to be taken under the Old Testament regime. No atonement for murder could make possible the residence of the murderer again in that section of the land where the murder was done (Nu 35:33), although the land was not by the murder rendered unfit for occupation by others. When Israel sinned in making the golden calf, God refused to accept any atonement (Ex 32:20 ff) until there had been a great loss of life from among the sinners. No repentance could find atonement for the refusal to follow Yahweh’s lead at Kadesh-barnea (Nu 14:20-25), and complete atonement was effected only when all the unbelieving generation had died in the wilderness (Num 26:65; Num 32:10); i. e. no atonement was possible, but the people died in that sin, outside the Land of Promise, although the sin was not allowed to cut off finally from Yahweh (Nu 14:29 f).
Permanent uncleanness or confirmed disease of an unclean sort caused permanent separation from the temple and the people of Yahweh (e. g. Le 7:20 f), and every uncleanness must be properly removed (Lev 5:2; Lev 17:15; Lev 22:2-8; Deut 23:10). A house in which an unclean disease was found must be cleansed–have atonement made for it (Le 14:53), and in extreme cases must be utterly destroyed (Le 14:43 ff).
After childbirth (Le 12:7 f) and in all cases of hemorrhage (compare Le 15:30) atonement must be effected by prescribed offerings, a loss, diminution, or pollution of blood, wherein is the life, having been suffered. All this elaborate application of the principle of atonement shows the comprehensiveness with which it was sought by the religious teachers to impress the people with the unity of all life in the perfectly holy and majestic God whom they were called upon to serve. Not only must the priests be clean who bear the vessels of the Lord (Isa 52:11), but all the people must be clean also from all defilement of flesh and spirit, seeking perfect holiness in the fear of their God (compare 2Co 7:1).
III. The Atonement of Jesus Christ
1. Preparation for New Testament Doctrine:
All the symbols, doctrine and examples of atonement in the Old Testament among the Hebrews find their counterpart, fulfillment and complete explanation in the new covenant in the blood of Jesus Christ (Matt 26:28; Heb 12:24). By interpreting the inner spirit of the sacrificial system, by insisting on the unity and holiness of God, by passionate pleas for purity in the people, and especially by teaching the principle of vicarious suffering for sin, the Prophets laid the foundation in thought-forms and in religious atmosphere for such a doctrine of atonement as is presented in the life and teaching of Jesus and as is unfolded in the teaching of His apostles.
The personal, parabolic sufferings of Hosea, the remarkable elaboration of the redemption of spiritual Israel through a Suffering Servant of Yahweh and the extension of that redemption to all mankind as presented in Isa 40-66, and the same element in such psalms as Ps 22, constitute a key to the understanding of the work of the Christ that unifies the entire revelation of God’s righteousness in passing over human sins (Ro 3:24 f). Yet it is remarkable that such a conception of the way of atonement was as far as possible from the general and average Jewish mind when Jesus came. In no sense can the New Testament doctrine of the Atonement be said to be the product of the thought and spirit of the times.
2. The One Clear Fact:
However much theologians may disagree as to the rationale of the Atonement, there is, as there can be, no question that Jesus and all His interpreters in the New Testament represent the Atonement between God and men as somehow accomplished through Jesus Christ. It is also an agreed fact in exegesis that Jesus and His apostles understood His death to be radically connected with this Atonement.
(1) Jesus Himself teaches that He has come to reveal the Father (Joh 14:9), to recover the lost (Lu 19:10), to give life to men (John 6:33; John 10:10), to disclose and establish the kingdom of heaven (or of God), gathering a few faithful followers through whom His work will be perpetuated (John 17:2; Matt 16:13); that salvation, personal and social, is dependent upon His person (John 6:53; John 14:6). He cannot give full teaching concerning His death but He does clearly connect His sufferings with the salvation He seeks to give. He shows in Lu 4:16 ff and 22:37 that He understands Isa 52-53 as realized in Himself; He is giving Himself (and His blood) a ransom for men (Matt 20:28; Matt 26:26 ff; compare 1Co 11:23 ff). He was not a mere martyr but gave Himself up willingly, and voluntarily (John 10:17; Gal 2:20), in accordance with the purpose of God (Ac 2:23), as the Redeemer of the world, and expected that by His lifting up all men would be drawn to Him (Joh 12:31-33). It is possible to explain the attention which the Evangelists give to the death of Jesus only by supposing that they are reflecting the importance which they recall Jesus Himself to have attached to His death.
(2) All the New Testament writers agree in making Jesus the center of their idea of the way of salvation and that His death is an essential element in His saving power. This they do by combining Old Testament teaching with the facts of the life and death of the Lord, confirming their conclusion by appeal to the Resurrection. Paul represents himself as holding the common doctrine of Christianity at the time, and from the beginning, when in 1Co 15:3 f he sums up his teaching that salvation is secured through the death and re surrection of Jesus according to the Scriptures. Elsewhere (Eph 2:16; Eph 2:18; 1Tim 2:5; compare Ac 4:12) in all his writings he emphasizes his belief that Jesus Christ is the one Mediator between God and man, by the blood of His cross (Col 1:20; 1Cor 2:2), removing the sin barrier between God and men. Peter, during the life of Jesus so full of the current Jewish notion that God accepted the Jews de facto, in his later ministry makes Jesus in His death the one way to God (Acts 4:12; 1Pet 1:2; 1Pet 1:18; 1Pet 1:19; 1Pet 2:21; 1Pet 2:24; 1Pet 3:18).
John has this element so prominent in his Gospel that radical critical opinion questions its authorship partly on that account, while the epistles of John and the Revelation are, on the same ground, attributed to later Greek thought (compare 1John 1:7; 1John 2:2; 1John 3:5; 1John 4:10; Rev 1:5; Rev 5:9). The Epistle to the Hebrews finds in Jesus the fulfillment and extension of all the sacrificial system of Judaism and holds that the shedding of blood seems essential to the very idea of remission of sins (He 9:22; compare Heb 2:17; Heb 7:26; Heb 9:24-28).
3. How Shall We Understand the Atonement?
When we come to systematize the teaching concerning the Atonement we find, as in all doctrine, that definite system is not offered us in the New Testament, but all system, if it is to have any value for Christianity, must find its materials and principles in the New Testament. Proceeding in this way some features may be stated positively and finally, while others must be presented interrogatively, recognizing that interpretations may differ.
(1) An initial consideration is that the Atonement originates with God who “was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself” (2Co 5:19), and whose love gave Jesus to redeem sinful men (John 3:16; Rom 5:8, etc. ). In all atonement in Old Testament and New Testament the initiative is of God who not only devises and reveals the way to reconciliation, but by means of angels, prophets, priests and ultimately His only begotten Son applies the means of atonement and persuades men to accept the proffered reconciliation. Nothing in the speculation concerning the Atonement can be more false to its true nature than making a breach between God and His Christ in their attitude toward sinful men.
(2) It follows that atonement is fundamental in the nature of God in His relations to men, and that redemption is in the heart of God’s dealing in history. The “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Re 13:8 the King James Version and the English Revised Version; compare Re 5:5-7) is the interpreter of the seven-sealed book of God’s providence in history� In Jesus we behold the Lamb of God taking away the sin of the world (Joh 1:29).
(3) The question will arise in the analysis of the doctrine: How does the death of Christ save us? No specific answer has ever been generally satisfactory. We have numerous theories of the Atonement. We have already intimated that the answer to this question will depend upon our idea of the nature of God, the nature of sin, the content of salvation, the nature of man, and our idea of Satan and evil spirits. We ought at once to dismiss all merely quantitative and commercial conceptions of exchange of merit. There is no longer any question that the doctrines of imputation, both of Adam’s sin and of Christ’s righteousness, were overwrought and applied by the early theologians with a fatal exclusiveness, without warrant in the Word of God. On the other hand no theory can hold much weight that presupposes that sin is a thing of light consequence in the nature of man and in the economy of God. Unless one is prepared to resist unto blood striving against sin (Heb 12:2-4), he cannot know the meaning of the Christ. Again, it may be said that the notion that the death of Christ is to be considered apart from His life, eternal and incarnate life, as the atoning work, is far too narrow to express the teaching of the Bible and far too shallow to meet the demands of an ethical conscience.
It would serve clearness if we reminded ourselves that the question of how in the Atonement may involve various elements. We may inquire: (a) for the ground on which God may righteously receive the sinner; (b) for the means by which God places the restoration within the reach of the sinner; (c) for the influence by which the sinner is persuaded to accept the reconciliation; (d) for the attitude or exercise of the sinner toward God in Christ wherein he actually enters the state of restored union with God. The various theories have seemed to be exclusive, or at least mutually antagonistic, largely because they have taken partial views of the whole subject and have emphasized some one feature of the whole content. All serious theories partly express the truth and all together are inadequate fully to declare how the Daystar from on high doth guide our feet into the way of peace (Lu 1:79).
(4) Another question over which theologians have sorely vexed themselves and each other concerns the extent of the Atonement, whether it is available for all men or only for certain particular, elect ones. That controversy may now be passed by. It is no longer possible to read the Bible and suppose that God relates himself sympathetically with only a part of the race. All segregated passages of Scripture formerly employed in support of such a view have now taken their place in the progressive self-interpretation of God to men through Christ who is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 Joh 2:2). No man cometh unto the Father but by Him (Joh 14:6): but whosoever does thus call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21).
See also ATONEMENT, DAY OF; PROPITIATION; RECONCILIATION; SACRIFICE.
In the vast literature on this subject the following is suggested: Articles by Orr in HDB; by Mackenzie in Standard Bible Dictionary; in the Catholic Encyclopedia; in Jewish Encyclopedia; by Simpson in Hastings, DCG; J. McLeod Campbell, The Nature of the Atonement; John Champion, The Living Atonement; W. M. Clow, The Cross in Christian Experience; T. J. Crawford, The Doctrine of Holy Scripture Respecting the Atonement; R. W. Dale, The Atonement; J. Denney, The Death of Christ: Its Place and Interpretation in the New Testament, and The Atonement and the Modern Mind; W. P. DuBose, The Soteriology of the New Testament; P. T. Forsyth, The Cruciality of the Cross; J. Scott Lidgett, The Spiritual Principle of the Atonement; Oxenham, The Catholic Doctrine of the Atonement; A. Ritschl, The Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation, I, II; Riviere, Le dogme de la redemption; D. W. Simon, Reconciliation by Incarnation; W. L. Walker, The Cross and the Kingdom; various writers, The Atonement and Modern Religious Thought.
William Owen Carver
The word ‘atonement’ occurs but once in the N.T. and there it should be ‘reconciliation,’ and the verb in the preceding sentence is so translated: “If when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life . . . . through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the reconciliation,” katallagh Rom. 5:10, 11. On the other hand, in Heb. 2:17 the A.V. has “to make reconciliation for the sins of the people:” here it is propitiation,’ ilaskomai. If the word atonement is not found in the N.T., atonement in its true meaning is spoken of continually, as ‘ransom;’ ‘bearing our sins in his own body on the tree;’ ‘Christ our passover is sacrificed for us;’ ‘Christ . . . . being made a curse for us;’ ‘He suffered for sins, the just for the unjust;’ and, to use the language of faith, ‘with his stripes we are healed;’ ‘He was delivered for our offences;’ ‘He was manifested to take away our sins.’
In the O.T. we have the word ‘atonement’ continually, but ‘propitiation’ not at all; ‘expiation’ twice in the margin, Num. 35:33; Isa. 47:11. But the same word, kaphar, though generally translated by ‘make atonement,’ is employed for ‘purging’ and occasionally for ‘cleansing,’ ‘reconciling,’ ‘purifying.’ The word kaphar is literally ‘to cover,’ with various prepositions with it; the ordinary one is ‘up’ or ‘upon.’ Hence in ‘atoned for him ‘ or ‘his sin:’ he or his sin is covered up: atonement is made for him or for his sin. Atonement was made upon the horns of the altar: the force is ‘atonement for.’ With the altar of incense atonement was not made upon it, but for it; so for the holy place, and for or about Aaron and his house: the preposition is al.
The same is used with the two goats. The sins were seen on the sinless goat, and expiation was made in respect of those sins. The how is not said here, but it is by the two goats making really one, because the object was to show that the sins were really laid upon it (that is, on Christ), and the sins carried away out of sight, and never to be found. If we can get our ideas, as taught of God as to the truth, into the train of Jewish thought, there is no difficulty in the al. In either case the difficulty arises from the fact that in English for presents the interested person to the mind; on is merely the place where it was done, as on an altar; whereas the al refers to the clearing away by the kaphar what was upon the thing al which the atoning rite was performed. Clearly the goat was not the person interested, nor was it merely done upon it as the place. It was that on which the sins lay, and they must be cleared and done away. The expiation referred to them as thus laid on the goat. As has been said, the how is not stated here, but the all-important fact defined that they were all carried away from Israel and from before God. The needed blood or life was presented to God in the other, which did really put them away; but did much more, and that aspect is attached to them there. This double aspect of the atoning work is of the deepest importance and interest, the presenting of the blood to God on the mercy seat, and the bearing away the sins. The word kaphar, to make atonement, occurs in Ex. 29, 30, 32; Lev. 1, 4-10, 12, 14-17, 19, 23; Num. 5, 6, 8, 15, 16, 25, 28, 29, 31; 2 Sam. 21:3; 1 Chr. 6:49; 2 Chr. 29:24; Neh. 10:33.
A short notice of some other Hebrew words may help. We have nasa, ‘to lift up,’ and so to forgive, to lift up the sins away in the mind of the person offended, or to show favour in lifting up the countenance of the favoured person. Ps. 4:6. We have also kasah, ‘to cover,’ as in Ps. 32:1, where sin is ‘covered’: sometimes used with al, as in Prov. 10:12, “love covereth all sins,” forgives: they are out of sight and mind. The person is looked at with love, and not the faults with offence.
But in such words there is not the idea of expiation, the side of the offender is contemplated, and he is looked at in grace, whatever the cause: it may be needed atonement, or simply, as in Proverbs, gracious kindness. We have also salach, ‘pardon or forgiveness.’ Thus it is used as the effect of kaphar, as in Lev. 4:20. But kaphar has always a distinct and important idea connected with it. It views the sin as toward God, and is ransom, when not used literally for sums of money; and kapporeth is the mercy seat. And though it involves forgiveness, purging from sin, it has always God in view, not merely that the sinner is relieved or forgiven: there is expiation and propitiation in it. And this is involved in the idea of purging sin, or making the purging of sin ilaskesqai, exilaskesqai, ilasmon poiein); it is in God’s sight as that by which He is offended, and what He rejects and judges.
There was a piaculum, ‘an expiatory sacrifice,’ something satisfying for the individual involved in guilt, or what was offensive to God, what He could not tolerate from His very nature. This with the heathen, who attached human passions or demon-revenge to their gods, was of course perverted to meet those ideas. They deprecated the vengeance of a probably angry and self-vengeful being. But God has a nature which is offended by sin. It is a holy, not of course a passionate, one; but the majesty of holiness must be maintained. Sin ought not to be treated with indifference, and God’s love provides the ransom. It is God’s Lamb who undertakes and accomplishes the work. The perfect love of God and His righteousness, the moral order of the universe and of our souls through faith, is maintained by the work of the cross. Through the perfect love not only of God, the giver, but of Him, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, propitiation is made, expiation for sin, its aspect being toward God, while the effect applies to us in cleansing and justifying, though it goes much farther.
Expiation is more the satisfaction itself which is made, the piaculum, what takes the wrath, and is devoted, made the curse, and so substituted for the offender, so that he goes free. And here the noun kopher comes to let light in on the inquiry. It is translated ‘ransom, satisfaction,’ and in 1 Sam. 12:3 a ‘bribe.’ So in Ex. 21:30 a kopher (translated ‘sum of money’) is laid upon a man to save his life where his ox had killed his neighbour; but in Num. 35:31 no kopher was to be taken for the life of a murderer; for (ver. 33) the land cannot be cleansed, kaphar, but by the blood of the man that shed blood as a murderer. This clearly shows what the force of kopher and of kaphar is. A satisfaction is offered suited to the eye and mind of him who is displeased and who judges; and through this there is purgation of the offence, cleansing, forgiveness, and favour, according to him who takes cognisance of the evil.
A word may be added as to the comparison made between the two birds, Lev. 14:4-7, and the two goats, Lev. 16:7-10. The object of the birds was the cleansing of the leper; it was application to the defiled man, not the kopher, ransom, presented to God. It could not have been done but on the ground of the blood-shedding and satisfaction, but the immediate action was the purifying: hence there was water as well as blood. One bird was slain over running water in an earthen vessel, and the live bird and other objects dipped in it, and the man was then sprinkled, and the living bird let loose far from death, though once identified with it, and was free. The Spirit, in the power of the word, makes the death of Christ available in the power of His resurrection. There was no laying sins on the bird let free, as on the goat: it was identified with the slain one, and then let go. The living water in the earthen vessel is doubtless the power of the Spirit and word in human nature, characterising the form of the truth, though death and the blood must come in, and all nature, its pomp and vanity, be merged in it. The leper is cleansed and then can worship. This is not the atonement itself towards God, though founded on it, as marked by the death of the bird. It is the cleansing of man in death to the flesh, but in the power of resurrection known in Christ who once died to sin.
So also the Red Heifer, Num. 19:1-22, was not in itself an act of atonement, but of purification. The ground was there laid in the slaying and burning of the heifer. Sin was, so to speak, consumed in it, and the blood was sprinkled seven times before the tabernacle of the congregation. When Christ died sin was, as it were, all consumed for His people by the fire of judgement, and all the value of the blood was before God where He communicated with the people. All that was settled, but man had defiled himself in his journey through the wilderness, and must be cleansed. The witness that sin had been put away long ago by Christ undergoing what was the fruit of sin was brought by the living power of the Holy Spirit and the word, and so he was purified. But the act of purifying is not in itself atonement; for atonement the offering is presented to God. It is a kopher a ransom, a satisfaction, to meet the infinite, absolute perfection of God’s nature and character, which indeed is there alone brought out. Thereby atonement is made and the very Day of Atonement is called kippurim. The priest made an atonement in respect of the sins; and it had the double aspect of presenting the blood before God within as meeting what He was, and bearing His people’s sins and carrying them away never to be found. We must make the difference of an un-rent veil and repeated sacrifices, and a rent veil and a sacrifice offered once for all. This is taught in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
There is still one case to be noticed, but it was merely a principle confirming the real character of the kaphar, making atonement. In Ex. 30:11-16 it was ordered that when the people were numbered, each, rich or poor, should give half a shekel as a kopher ransom, for his soul or life. This had nothing to do with sin, but with ransom, that there might be no plague — a recognition that they belonged to God all alike, and could have no human boast in numbers, as David afterwards brought the plague on Israel. This was offered to God as a sign of this, and shows what the force of kaphar, making atonement, is.
We have no atonement in connection with the meat offering: we get the perfectness of Christ’s person, and all the elements that constituted it so as man, and there tested by the fire of God, which was even to death, the death of the cross, and all a perfect sweet savour, and perfect in presenting it to God a sweet savour, but no kopher, ransom: for that we must have blood-shedding.
The essence then of atonement is, firstly, a work or satisfaction presented to God according to, and perfectly glorifying, His nature and character about sin by sacrifice; and secondly, the bearing our sins; glorifying God even where sin was and in respect of sin (and thus His love is free to go out to all sinners); and giving the believer, him that comes to God by that blood-shedding, the certainty that his sins are all gone, and that God will remember them no more.
• Miscellany of minor sub-topics
– For tabernacle and furniture
Lev 16:15-20; Lev 16:33
– In consecration of the Levites
– For those defiled by the dead
– Made for houses
– By meat offerings
– By jewels
– By money
Exod 30:12-16; Lev 5:15-16; 2Kgs 12:16
– By incense
• Day of:
– Time of
Exod 30:10; Lev 23:27; Lev 25:9; Num 29:7
– How observed
Exod 30:10; Lev 16:2-34; Lev 23:27-32; Num 29:7-11; Acts 27:9; Heb 5:3; Heb 9:7; Heb 9:19; Heb 9:22
• Made by animal sacrifices
Exod 29:36; Exod 30:12-16; Lev 1:4; Lev 4:20; Lev 4:22-35; Lev 5:6-10; Lev 6:7; Lev 9:7; Lev 10:17; Lev 12:6-8; Lev 14:12-32; Lev 16:6; Lev 16:10-11; Lev 16:15-19; Lev 16:24-34; Lev 17:11; Lev 19:22; Num 15:22-28; Num 28:30; Num 28:22; Num 29:5; Num 29:10-11; Heb 9:22
• Made by Jesus:
– Made by Jesus:
Luke 2:30-31; Gal 4:4-5; Eph 1:3-12; Eph 1:17-22; Eph 2:4-10; Col 1:19-20; 1Pet 1:20; Rev 13:8
– A mystery
1Cor 2:7; 1Pet 1:8-12
– Made but once
Heb 7:27; Heb 9:24-28; Heb 10:10; Heb 10:12; Heb 10:14; 1Pet 3:18
– Redemption by
Matt 20:28; Acts 20:28; Gal 3:13; 1Tim 2:6; Heb 9:12; Rev 5:9
Gen 4:4; Heb 11:4; Gen 22:2; Heb 11:17; Heb 11:19; Exod 12:5; Exod 12:11; Exod 12:14; 1Cor 5:7; Exod 24:8; Heb 9:20; Lev 16:30; Lev 16:34; Heb 9:7; Heb 9:12; Heb 9:28; Lev 17:11; Heb 9:22 Salvation, Plan of
• Unclassified scriptures relating to
Ps 40:6-8; Isa 53:4-12; Dan 9:24-27; Zech 13:1; Matt 26:28; Luke 22:20; Luke 24:46-47; John 1:29; John 1:36; John 6:51; John 11:49-51; Acts 17:2-3; Acts 20:28; Rom 3:24-26; Rom 4:25; Rom 5:1-2; Rom 5:6-11; Rom 5:15-21; 1Cor 1:17-18; 1Cor 1:23-24; 1Cor 15:3; 2Cor 5:18-19; Gal 1:3-4; Gal 4:4-5; Eph 1:7; Eph 2:13-18; Eph 5:2; Eph 5:25; Col 1:14; Col 1:19-22; 1Thess 5:9-10; 1Tim 2:5-6; Titus 2:14; Heb 1:3; Heb 2:9; Heb 2:17; Heb 9:12-15; Heb 9:25-26; Heb 10:1-12; Heb 10:18-20; Heb 12:24; Heb 13:12; Heb 13:20-21; 1Pet 1:18-20; 1Pet 2:24; 1Pet 3:18; 1John 1:7; 1John 2:2; 1John 3:5; 1John 4:10; 1John 5:6; Rev 1:5; Rev 5:9; Rev 7:14; Rev 12:11 Blood; Jesus, The Christ, Death of; Jesus, The Christ, Mission of; Jesus, The Christ, Sufferings of; Redemption; Salvation
translated “atonement” in the AV of Rom 5:11, signifies, not “atonement,” but “reconciliation,” as in the RV. See also Rom 11:15; 2Co 5:18-19. So with the corresponding verb katallasso, see under RECONCILE. “Atonement” (the explanation of this English word as being “at-one-ment” is entirely fanciful) is frequently found in the OT. See, for instance, Leviticus, chapters 16 and 17. The corresponding NT words are hilasmos, “propitiation,” 1Jo 2:2; 1Jo 4:10, and hilasterion, Rom 3:25; Heb 9:5, “mercy-seat,” the covering of the ark of the covenant. These describe the means (in and through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, in His death on the cross by the shedding of His blood in His vicarious sacrifice for sin) by which God shows mercy to sinners. See PROPITIATION.
David Cox’s Topical Bible Concordance
Explained Ro 5:8-11; 2Co 5:18,19; Ga 1:4; 1Jo 2:2; 4:10
Foreordained Ro 3:25; 1Pe 1:11,20; Re 13:8
Foretold Isa 53:4-6,8-12; Da 9:24-27; Zec 13:1,7; Joh 11:50,51
Effected by Christ alone Joh 1:29,36; Ac 4:10,12; 1Th 1:10; 1Ti 2:5,6; Heb 2:9; 1Pe 2:24
Was voluntary Ps 40:6-8; Heb 10:5-9; Joh 10:11,15,17,18
Grace and mercy of God. Ro 8:32; Eph 2:4,5,7; 1Ti 2:4; Heb 2:9
Love of God. Ro 5:8; 1Jo 4:9,10
Love of Christ. Joh 15:13; Ga 2:20; Eph 5:2,25; Re 1:5
Reconciles the justice and mercy of God Isa 45:21; Ro 3:25,26
Necessity for Isa 59:16; Lu 19:10; Heb 9:22
Made but once Heb 7:27; 9:24-28; 10:10,12,14; 1Pe 3:18
Acceptable to God Eph 5:2
Reconciliation to God effected by Ro 5:10; 2Co 5:18-20; Eph 2:13-16; Col 1:20-22; Heb 2:17; 1Pe 3:18
Access to God by Heb 10:19,20
Remission of sins by Joh 1:29; Ro 3:25; Eph 1:7; 1Jo 1:7; Re 1:5
Justification by Ro 5:9; 2Co 5:21
Sanctification by 2Co 5:15; Eph 5:26,27; Tit 2:14; Heb 10:10; 13:12
Redemption by Mt 20:28; Ac 20:28; 1Ti 2:6; Heb 9:12; Re 5:9
Has delivered saints from the
Power of sin. Ro 8:3; 1Pe 1:18,19
Power of the World. Ga 1:4; 6:14
Power of the devil. Col 2:15; Heb 2:14,15
Saints glorify God for 1Co 6:20; Ga 2:20; Php 1:20,21
Saints rejoice in God for Ro 5:11
Saints praise God for Re 5:9-13
Faith in, indispensable Ro 3:25; Ga 3:13,14
Commemorated in the Lord’s supper Mt 26:26-28; 1Co 11:23-26
Ministers should fully set forth Ac 5:29-31,42; 1Co 15:3; 2Co 5:18-21
Typified Ge 4:4; Heb 11:4; Ge 22:2; Heb 11:17,19; Ex 12:5,11,14; 1Co 5:7; Ex 24:8; Heb 9:20; Le 16:30,34; Heb 9:7,12,28; Le 17:11; Heb 9:22