A great deal is said and written in Evangelical circles concerning the doctrine of the Atonement and anyone who may not be in agreement with this teaching is considered to be outside the pale. Now, there is a great deal of difference between not accepting what is implied by the supporters of the Atonement being a N. T. Doctrine and what the scriptural Doctrine of the Atonement really is. There are a great many who confidently teach that by splitting up the English word into its syllables AT-ONE-MENT one is given a particular aspect of the work that was accomplished by Christ on the cross. Is this so?
The word 'atonement' occurs but once in the Authorised Version of the N.T. in Romans 5:11 (margin—'reconciliation'). This alone should cause the student to pause and not jump to a hasty conclusion, not to follow blindly what someone else has written or said. The Greek word thus translated is katallagE, which occurs in three other places. Romans 11:15: "For if the casting away of them (Israel) be the reconciling of the world. . ." 2. Cor. 5:18: "Hath given us the ministry of reconciliation." 19: "Hath committed unto us the Word of reconciliation." The word appears also in verbal form six times, Romans 5:10: "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." 1. Cor. 7:11: "Let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband." 2. Cor. 5:18: "All things are of God, Who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ. . " 5:19: "God was in Christ reconciling (the) world unto Himself. . ." 5:20: "We pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." If, by the appellation of the doctrine of the atonement is meant the doctrine of the reconciliation, well and good, but why not call it the latter; why introduce a word that does not occur in the N.T. (apart from the A.V.), which has been shown by its use to be misleading and not only that, but false.
If one is to get down to the Biblical meaning of Atonement, one must go back to the Old Testament, where the Hebrew word used is KIPPURIM and in its verbal form KAPHAR. In the former form it is used nine times, four in Exodus and two in Numbers referring to offerings and three in Leviticus speaking of the Day of Atonement. The verb KAPHAR is used about one hundred times and of these it is translated seventy-two times 'make atonement,' seven times 'reconcile' and the remainder of occurrences in about ten different ways. With whatever English word is used to translate KAPHAR, it has not necessarily the meaning that that particular word denotes in the Hebrew.
Before ever this word is used in the sacrificial sense, it is used
in two very interesting ways. In Gen. 32, Jacob having left
Haran and his father-in-law Laban, he goes on his way. Approaching the
land of Seir, where his brother Esau lived and expecting trouble, he
sends ahead of him flocks and herds and
camels as a present to his brother, who was coming out against
him with an armed band. He gives command to those in charge
of these, saying,
Now let us turn to the first occurrence of the word in the
Scriptures, Genesis 6:14.
In the O.T. the sins of the redeemed People, Israel, were 'covered'; they were pardoned, but not removed; they were hidden from God's sight, but not expiated. In the N.T. the believers in Christ "by grace are saved through faith"; "we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness (aphesis—discharge, setting free; hence remission. E. W. B. Lex) of sins, according to the riches of His grace, wherein He abounded toward us (Eph. 1:8 and 2:7, 8)."
The Law, under which the 'atonement' was instituted, was
given to Israel at Sinai.
'Atonement,' for what it is, is an Old Testament doctrine, which, if introduced into the New, when the finished work of Christ has been accomplished on the cross, not only obscures the fulness of Christ's redemptive work, but leads believers to stop short of their rightful inheritance of being "complete in Him (Col. 2:10)."
J.G.H.S. Last updated 8.3.2006