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 ( Ezekiel 43:20 Ezekiel 43:26 ; 45:20 ), and the Day of Atonement itself ( Leviticus 16:16 Leviticus 16:18 Leviticus 16:20 ). 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 sinsintentional, unintentional, heinous, trivialof 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 atonementto 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.
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.
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This word does not occur in the Authorized Version of the New Testament except in Romans 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 ( Exodus 32:30 ; Leviticus 4:26 ; 5:16 ; Numbers 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 ; Romans 3:24 Romans 3:25 ; Ephesians 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 ( Exodus 34:7 ; Joshua 24:19 ; Psalms 5:4 ; 7:11 ; Nahum 1:2 Nahum 1:6 ; Romans 3:5 ). This is God's plan, clearly revealed; and that is enough for us to know.
A covering (for sin).
And he shall bring a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering, unto the priest: and the priest shall make an ATONEMENT for him concerning his ignorance wherein he erred and wist it not, and it shall be forgiven him. ( Leviticus 5:18 )
Translates kaphar; chaTa'; ratsah, the last employed only of human relations (1 Samuel 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. Matthew 5:24; lip- rarely (Daniel 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 (Ezekiel 45:15,20; Daniel 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" (Leviticus 6:30; 8:15; 16:20; 1 Samuel 29:4; Ezekiel 45:15,20; Daniel 9:24). In this latter sense it connects itself with chaTa'. In 2 Chronicles 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" (Hebrews 2:17; Leviticus 6:30; 16:20; Ezekiel 45:20); allattein, used however only in composition with prepositions, means "to render other," "to restore" to another (former?) condition of harmony (compare Matthew 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" (Leviticus 6:30; 8:15; 16:20; 1 Samuel 29:4; Ezekiel 45:15,20; Daniel 9:24). In this latter sense it connects itself with chaTa'. In 2 Chronicles 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 Romans 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 (2 Corinthians 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 (Luke 15).
Such also is the ideal of Jesus as seen especially in John 14-17; compare particularly 17:21ff; compare also Ephesians 2:11-22; 1 Corinthians 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 (Leviticus 17:10) or is the blood (Genesis 9:4; Deuteronomy 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 (Exodus 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 (Exodus 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 (Hebrews 7:25; 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 (Romans 3:9-19; 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, Isaiah 49:1-7; 66:18; Psalms 22:27).
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 (Psalms 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 \DAY OF ATONEMENT\ (which see) the whole group was receptively to take conscious part in the work of atonement (Numbers 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. Leviticus 4:2,13,22,27; 5:14). 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 (Numbers 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 (Exodus 32:20) 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 (Numbers 14:20-25), and complete atonement was effected only when all the unbelieving generation had died in the wilderness (Numbers 26:65; 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 (Numbers 14:29).
Permanent uncleanness or confirmed disease of an unclean sort caused permanent separation from the temple and the people of Yahweh (e. g. Leviticus 7:20 f), and every uncleanness must be properly removed (Leviticus 5:2; 17:15; 22:2-8; Deuteronomy 23:10). A house in which an unclean disease was found must be cleansed--have atonement made for it (Leviticus 14:53), and in extreme cases must be utterly destroyed (Leviticus 14:43).
After childbirth (Leviticus 12:7) and in all cases of hemorrhage (compare Leviticus 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 (Isaiah 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 2 Corinthians 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 (Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 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 Psalms 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 (Romans 3:24). 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 (John 14:9), to recover the lost (Luke 19:10), to give life to men (John 6:33; 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; Matthew 16:13); that salvation, personal and social, is dependent upon His person (John 6:53; 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 Luke 4:16 and 22:37 that He understands Isa 52-53 as realized in Himself; He is giving Himself (and His blood) a ransom for men (Matthew 20:28; 26:26; compare 1 Corinthians 11:23). He was not a mere martyr but gave Himself up willingly, and voluntarily (John 10:17; Galatians 2:20), in accordance with the purpose of God (Acts 2:23), as the Redeemer of the world, and expected that by His lifting up all men would be drawn to Him (John 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 1 Corinthians 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 (Ephesians 2:16,18; 1 Timothy 2:5; compare Acts 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 (Colossians 1:20; 1 Corinthians 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; 1 Peter 1:2,18,19; 2:21,24; 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 1 John 1:7; 2:2; 3:5; 4:10; Revelation 1:5; 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 (Hebrews 9:22; compare Hebrews 2:17; 7:26; 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" (2 Corinthians 5:19), and whose love gave Jesus to redeem sinful men (John 3:16; Romans 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" (Revelation 13:8 the King James Version and the English Revised Version; compare Revelation 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 (John 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 (Hebrews 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 (Luke 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 (1John 2:2). No man cometh unto the Father but by Him (John 14:6):
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
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