What is meant by the term Atonement?

What is meant by the term Atonement? By Jack Kettler

As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical, and commentary evidence and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live.

Definitions: Atonement or substitutionary atonement

Atonement: To atone means to make amends, to repair a wrong done. Biblically, it means to remove sin. The Old Testament atonements offered by the high priest were temporary and a foreshadow of the real and final atonement made by Jesus. Jesus atoned for the sins of the world (1John 2:2). This atonement is received by faith (Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:8-9).

Man is a sinner (Romans 5:8) and cannot atone for himself. Therefore, it was the love of the Father that sent Jesus (1John 4:10) to die in our place (1Peter 3:18) for our sins (1Peter 2:24). Because of the atonement, our fellowship with God is restored (Romans 5:10). *

What is the substitutionary atonement?

Answer: The substitutionary atonement refers to Jesus Christ dying as a substitute for sinners. The Scriptures teach that all men are sinners (Romans 3:9-18, 23). The penalty for our sinfulness is death. Romans 6:23 reads, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” **

What the Scriptures say along with selected commentary entries:

“For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” (Leviticus 17:11)

“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes, we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

The Pulpit Commentary provides excellent commentary of this passage from Isaiah:

“Verse 5. – But he was wounded for our transgressions. This verse contains four asseverations of the great truth that all Christ’s sufferings were for us, and constituted the atonement for our sins. The form is varied, but the truth is one. Christ was “wounded” or “pierced”

(1) by the thorns; (2) by the nails; and (3) by the spear of the soldier.

The wounds inflicted by the nails caused his death, He was bruised; or, crushed (comp. Isaiah 3:15; Isaiah 19:10; Isaiah 57:15. Psalm 72:4). “No stronger expression could be found in Hebrew to denote severity of suffering – suffering unto death” (Urwick). The chastisement of our peace was upon him; i.e. “the chastisement which brought us peace,” which put a stop to the enmity between fallen man and an offended God – which made them once more at one (comp. Ephesians 2:15-17, “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the Law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and came and preached peace to you which were afar off;” Colossians 1:20, “Having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself”). With his stripes we are healed; rather, we were healed (comp. 1Peter 2:24, “By whose stripes ye were healed”). Besides the blows inflicted on him with the hand (Matthew 26:27) and with the reed (Matthew 27:30), our Lord was judicially scourged (Matthew 27:26). Such scourging would leave the “stripe-marks” which are here spoken of.” (1)

“Who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Romans 4:25ESV)

“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)

“Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” (Hebrews 9:12)

“And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.” (Hebrews 9:22)

“Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.” (Hebrews 13:12)

“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” (1Peter 2:24)

Matthew Poole’s Commentary is profitable for 1Peter 2:24:

“Who his own self, not by offering any other sacrifice, (as the Levitical priests did), but by that of himself.

Bare our sins; or, took up, or lifted up, in allusion to the sacrifices of the Old Testament, the same word being used of them, Hebrews 7:27 Jam 2:21. As the sins of the offerer were typically laid upon the sacrifice, which, being substituted in his place, was likewise slain in his stead; so Christ standing in our room, took upon him the guilt of our sins, and bare their punishment, Isaiah 53:4, &c. The Lord laid on him our iniquities, and he willingly took them up; and by bearing their curse, took away our guilt. Or, it may have respect to the cross, on which Christ being lifted up, {John 3:14, 15 Joh 12:32} took up our sins with him, and expiated their guilt by undergoing that death which was due to us for them.

In his own body; this doth not exclude his soul but is rather to be understood, by a synecdoche, of his whole human nature, and we have the sufferings of his soul mentioned, Isaiah 53:10,12Jo 12:27; but mention is made of his body, because the sufferings of that were most visible.

On the tree, on the cross.

That we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness; another end of Christ’s death, the mortification of sin, and our being freed from the dominion of it, Romans 6:2,6, and being reformed to a life of holiness.

By whose stripes ye were healed; viz. of the wound made in your souls by sin: this seems to relate to the blows that servants might receive of cruel masters, against which the apostle comforts them, and to the patient bearing of which he exhorts them, because Christ by bearing stripes, (a servile punishment), under which may be comprehended all the sufferings of his death, had healed them of much worse wounds, and spiritual diseases, the guilt of their consciences, and the defilement of their souls.” (2)

“And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1John 2:2)

“And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” (Revelation 5:9)

Synonyms for atonement:

Redemption; reparation; amends; expiation; payment; propitiation; recompense; redress; restitution; satisfaction

Propitiation: This means the turning away of wrath by an offering. It is similar to expiation but expiation does not carry the nuances involving wrath. For the Christian the propitiation was the shed blood of Jesus on the cross. It turned away the wrath of God so that He could pass “over the sins previously committed” (Romans 3:25). It was the Father who sent the Son to be the propitiation (1John 4:10) for all (1John 2:2). *

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of OT Words on Atone:

Atone

A. Verb.

Kâphar (כָּפַר, Strong’s #3722), “to cover over, atone, propitiate, pacify.” This root is found in the Hebrew language at all periods of its history, and perhaps is best known from the term Yom Kippur, “Day of Atonement.” Its verbal forms occur approximately 100 times in the Hebrew Bible. Kâphar is first found in Gen. 6:14, where it is used in its primary sense of “to cover over.” Here God gives Noah instructions concerning the ark, including, “Cover it inside and out with pitch” (RSV). (The KJV translates, “Pitch it within and without with pitch.”)Most uses of the word, however, involve the theological meaning of “covering over,” often with the blood of a sacrifice, in order to atone for some sin. It is not clear whether this means that the “covering over” hides the sin from God’s sight or implies that the sin is wiped away in this process.

As might be expected, this word occurs more frequently in the Book of Leviticus than in any other book, since Leviticus deals with the ritual sacrifices that were made to atone for sin. For example, Lev. 4:13-21 gives instructions for bringing a young bull to the tent of meeting for a sin offering. After the elders laid their hands on the bull (to transfer the people’s sin to the bull), the bull was killed. The priest then brought some of the blood of the bull into the tent of meeting and sprinkled it seven times before the veil. Some of the blood was put on the horns of the altar and the rest of the blood was poured at the base of the altar of burnt offering. The fat of the bull was then burned on the altar. The bull itself was to be burned outside the camp. By means of this ritual, “the priest shall make an atonement [kâphar] for them, and it shall be forgiven them” (Lev. 4:20).

The term “atonement” is found at least 16 times in Lev. 16, the great chapter concerning the Day of Atonement. Before anything else, the high priest had to “make atonement” for himself and his house by offering a bull as a sin offering. After lots were cast upon the two goats, one was sent away into the wilderness as an atonement (v. 10), while the other was sacrificed and its blood sprinkled on the mercy seat as an atonement for the people (vv. 15-20). The Day of Atonement was celebrated only once a year. Only on this day could the high priest enter the holy of holies of the tabernacle or temple on behalf of the people of Israel and make atonement for them.

Sometimes atonement for sin was made apart from or without blood offerings. During his vision-call experience, Isaiah’s lips were touched with a coal of fire taken from the altar by one of the seraphim. With that, he was told, “Thy sin is purged [kâphar]” (Isa. 6:7). The English versions translate the word variously as “purged” (KJV, JB); “forgiven” (RSV, NASB, TEV); and “wiped away” (NEB). In another passage, Scripture says that the guilt or iniquity of Israel would be “purged” (KJV, NEB) by the destruction of the implements of idolatrous worship (Isa. 27:9). In this case, the RSV renders kapar as “expiated,” while the NASB and TEV translate it as “forgiven.”

B. Noun.

Kappôreth (כַּפֹּרֶת, Strong’s #3727), “mercy seat; throne of mercy.” This noun form of kapar has been variously interpreted by the English versions as “mercy seat” (KJV, RSV); “cover” (NEB); “lid” (TEV); “throne of mercy” (JB); and “throne” (Knox). It refers to a slab of gold that rested on top of the ark of the covenant. Images of two cherubims stood on this slab, facing each other. This slab of gold represented the throne of God and symbolized His real presence in the worship shrine. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest sprinkled the blood of the sin offering on it, apparently symbolizing the blood’s reception by God. Thus, the Kappôreth was the central point at which Israel, through its high priest, could come into the presence of God.

This is further seen in the fact that the temple proper was distinguished from its porches and other accompanying structures by the name “place of the mercy seat (Kappôreth)” (1Chron. 28:11). The Septuagint refers to the mercy seat as a “propitiary” (hilasteirion). (3)

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words on Atonement:

1Strong’s Number: g2643 Greek: katallage

Atonement:

Translated “atonement” in the AV of Rom 5:11, signifies, not “atonement,” but “reconciliation,” as in the RV. See also Rom 11:15; 2Cr 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; 4:10, and hilasterion, Rom 3:25; Hebrews 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.

A-1 Verb Strong’s Number: g2433 Greek: hilaskomai

Propitiation:

was used amongst the Greeks with the significance “to make the gods propitious, to appease, propitiate,” inasmuch as their good will was not conceived as their natural attitude, but something to be earned first. This use of the word is foreign to the Greek Bible, with respect to God, whether in the Sept. or in the NT. It is never used of any act whereby man brings God into a favorable attitude or gracious disposition. It is God who is “propitiated” by the vindication of His holy and righteous character, whereby, through the provision He has made in the vicarious and expiatory sacrifice of Christ, He has so dealt with sin that He can show mercy to the believing sinner in the removal of his guilt and the remission of his sins.

Thus in Luke 18:13 it signifies “to be propitious” or “merciful to” (with the person as the object of the verb), and in Hebrews 2:17 “to expiate, to make propitiation for” (the object of the verb being sins); here the RV, “to make propitiation” is an important correction of the AV, “to make reconciliation.” Through the “propitiation” sacrifice of Christ, he who believes upon Him is by God’s own act delivered from justly deserved wrath, and comes under the covenant of grace. Never is God said to be reconciled, a fact itself indicative that the enmity exists on man’s part alone, and that it is man who needs to be reconciled to God, and not God to man. God is always the same and, since He is Himself immutable, His relative attitude does change towards those who change. He can act differently towards those who come to Him by faith, and solely on the ground of the “propitiatory” sacrifice of Christ, not because He has changed, but because He ever acts according to His unchanging righteousness.

The expiatory work of the Cross is therefore the means whereby the barrier which sin interposes between God and man is broken down. By the giving up of His sinless life sacrificially, Christ annuls the power of sin to separate between God and the believer.

In the OT the Hebrew verb kaphar is connected with kopher, “a covering” (see MERCY-SEAT), and is used in connection with the burnt offering, e.g., Lev 1:4; 14:20; 16:24, the guilt offering e.g., Lev 5:16,18, the sin offering, e.g., Lev 4:20, 26, 31, 35, the sin offering and burnt offering together, e.g., Lev 5:10; 9:7, the meal offering and peace offering, e.g., Ezekiel 45:15, 17, as well as in other respects. It is used of the ram offered at the consecration of the high priest, Exodus 29:33, and of the blood which God gave upon the altar to make “propitiation” for the souls of the people, and that because “the life of the flesh is in the blood,” Lev 17:11, and “it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life” (RV). Man has forfeited his life on account of sin and God has provided the one and only way whereby eternal life could be bestowed, namely, by the voluntary laying down of His life by His Son, under Divine retribution. Of this, the former sacrifices appointed by God were foreshadowings.

B-1 Noun Strong’s Number: g2435 Greek: hilasterion

Propitiation:

Akin to A, is regarded as the neuter of an adjective signifying “propitiatory.” In the Sept. it is used adjectivelly in connection with epithema, “a cover,” in Exodus 25:17; 37:6, of the lid of the ark (see MERCY-SEAT), but it is used as a noun (without epithema), of locality, in Exodus 25:18-22; 31:7; 35:12; 37:7, 8, 9; Lev 16:2, 13-15; Num. 7:89, and this is its use in Hebrews 9:5.

Elsewhere in the NT, it occurs in Rom 3:25, where it is used of Christ Himself; the RV text and punctuation in this verse are important: “whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, by His blood.” The phrase “by His blood” is to be taken in immediate connection with “propitiation.” Christ, through His expiatory death, is the Personal means by whom God shows the mercy of His justifying grace to the sinner who believes. His “blood” stands for the voluntary giving up of His life, by the shedding of His blood in expiatory sacrifice, under Divine judgment righteously due to us as sinners, faith being the sole condition on man’s part.

Note: “By metonymy, ‘blood’ is sometimes put for ‘death,’ inasmuch as, blood being essential to life, Lev 17:11, when the blood is shed life is given up, that is, death takes place. The fundamental principle on which God deals with sinners is expressed in the words ‘apart from shedding of blood,’ i.e., unless a death takes place, ‘there is no remission’ of sins,” Hebrews 9:22.

“But whereas the essential of the type lay in the fact that blood was shed, the essential of the antitype lies in this, that the blood shed was that of Christ. Hence, in connection with Jewish sacrifices, ‘the blood’ is mentioned without reference to the victim from which it flowed, but in connection with the great antitypical sacrifice of the NT the words ‘the blood’ never stand alone; the One Who shed the blood is invariably specified, for it is the Person that gives value to the work; the saving efficacy of the Death depends entirely upon the fact that He Who died was the Son of God.” *

[* From Notes on Thessalonians by Hogg and Vine, p. 168.]

B-2 Noun Strong’s Number: g2434 Greek: hilasmos

Propitiation:

Akin to hileos (“merciful, propitious”), signifies “an expiation, a means whereby sin is covered and remitted.” It is used in the NT of Christ Himself as “the propitiation,” in 1Jo 2:2; 4:10, signifying that He Himself, through the expiatory sacrifice of His Death, is the Personal means by whom God shows mercy to the sinner who believes on Christ as the One thus provided. In the former passage, He is described as “the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.” The italicized addition in the AV, “the sins of,” gives a wrong interpretation. What is indicated is that provision is made for the whole world, so that no one is, by Divine predetermination, excluded from the scope of God’s mercy; the efficacy of the “propitiation,” however, is made actual for those who believe. In 1Jo 4:10, the fact that God “sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” is shown to be the great expression of God’s love toward man, and the reason why Christians should love one another. In the Sept., Lev 25:9; Num. 5:8; 1Ch 28:20; Psalm 130:4; Ezekiel 44:27; Amos 8:14. (4)

Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology – Atonement:

Atonement

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 non animal 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 (Num16:47) to mistakes of intent, when the only sin was ignorance or error, not willful disobedience (Num15:22-29).

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. (5)

In Closing:

The Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 11.3:

iii. Christ, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to his Father’s justice in their behalf. Yet, inasmuch as he was given by the Father for them; and his obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead; and both, freely, not for anything in them; their justification is only of free grace; that both the exact justice and rich grace might be glorified in the justification of sinners.

The confession is saying that the atonement is the means by which a fallen sinner is reconciled to God through Christ’s sacrificial suffering and death on his behalf.

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Notes:

1. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Isaiah, Vol.10., (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 205-206.

2. Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985) p. 907.

3. W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of OT, (Dallas, TX, Thomas Nelson), p. 10.

4. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), pp. 77-78; 895.

5. Walter A. Elwell, Editor, Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House), p. 42-45.

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. He is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

For more study:

* CARM https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ctd/a/atonement.html

** https://www.gotquestions.org/substitutionary-atonement.html

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