Atonement: Definition

Ken Hamrick

Active member
The Arminian contends that Jesus died for everyone. The Calvinist counters that since not all will be saved, not all were atoned for. Both assume that when Jesus died, atonement was—right then—made for sinners. Thus, the endless debate over whose sins were atoned for, and the contradiction of separating atonement from “application.” But this is not the biblical picture. Atonement is not in the shedding of blood, but in the application of the blood to the sinner.

1 John 1:7 ESV
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

Rev. 7:14b ESV
14 …And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

When were your robes “washed in the blood of the Lamb?” What a vivid picture of spiritual realities! Our human spirit as our garment—our robe—as we stand before God. The stains of our guilt were evident. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” We come by faith to Christ, and His shed blood cleanses us from sin—making our robes white. This is atonement. But let’s expound it further, by looking to the Old Testament.

Lev. 17:11 ESV
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.

Lev. 1:4 ESV
He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.

(See also Ex. 29:33-37; 30:10-16; 32:30; Lev. 4:20-35; 5:6-18; 7:7; 34; 9:7; 10:17; 12:7-31, 53; 15:15, 30; 16:6-34; 19:22; 23:27-28; 25:9; Num. 5:8; 6:11; 8:12-21; 15:25-28; 16:46; 25:13; 28:22-30; 29:5-11; 31:50).

The word translated as atonement is kâphar (כָּפַר), which literally means, to cover over (completely, as if by painting or immersion), as with pitch or tar. It refers to the sinner (and his sin) being covered in (or by) the blood of the substitute. Bleeding that did not result in death would not atone. The blood that is needed for atonement represents (by metonymy) the sacrificial death of the substitute. When the sinner is covered in this sense, then God who looks down on him will instead see the substitute, blocking the sinner from His view. In this picture, we find the definition:

Atonement is the satisfaction of justice by the interposition of a sacrificial substitute between God and the sinner, the suffering and death interposed between the sinner and the wrath, propitiating God.

This interposing is God’s chosen response to the proper fulfilling of His requirements for atonement.

William Tyndale coined the word “atonement” in his early translation of the Bible into English. By using at-one-ment to translate kâphar, Tyndale was basically translating it as reconciliation—man becoming “at one” with God. Thus, he also used “atonement” to translate katallagē (καταλλαγή), the word from Rom. 5:11 that means reconciliation. But he conflated the cause with the effect. Reconciliation is one effect of a blood sacrifice being accepted by God, but so is forgiveness. But reconciliation can only happen because of and based on the propitiation that occurs when one is covered by the blood of an accepted sacrifice.

When the Jews produced the Septuagint, translating the Old Testament into Greek (in the third century B.C.), they used the word exilaskomai (ἱλάσκομαι), which means to propitiate, to translate the word kâphar in contexts of blood sacrifice.[1] They did not use katallagē , the word from Rom. 5:11. This concept (kâphar) is better understood as propitiation rather than its effect, reconciliation. And this is why the Church has, over the centuries, understood a meaning for atonement that goes far beyond mere at-one-ment or reconciliation. An atoning sacrifice is a propitiating sacrifice.

Since kâphar is an idea that goes a little further than merely to propitiate, since it is propitiation resulting from the covering of the sinner by the blood of a sacrificial victim, then it is appropriate that a different word is used (“atonement”), but only if that different word is understood to mean what is intended. Atonement has come to have that meaning in spite of its English etymology, which is of little use in understanding kâphar.

Ken Hamrick


[1] William G.T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, (P & R: Phillipsburg, 2003), 3rd ed., p. 697.
 

Dizerner

Well-known member
Both assume that when Jesus died, atonement was—right then—made for sinners.

Greetings in Christ, and a very important topic.

I've been enjoying your little series on the atonement, and perhaps my previous posts were not so warmly received because I didn't put enough syrup on the waffles before I cut them. I really enjoy meditating on the atonement, and I think it's a very spiritually healthy thing, but it can seem a bit dauntingly complicated at times to fully understand, however simply the basics can be grasped.

"Atonement being made" is a somewhat ambiguous phrase, and there have always been people who see atonement as a two-step, not one-step process. Making atonement a one-step process contradicts too many Scriptures, because it becomes unilaterally and unconditionally applied, which means we are forgiven before we ask for forgiveness, before we have faith, and before we are regenerated.

The way I see atonement is, it is provided and then it is received, it is paid and then it is accepted, it is accomplished and then it is applied, its potential is created and then its potential is actualized, always in two steps. When Jesus said "It is finished," it really was finished... but only in Christ. The debt, payment, suffering for sin is not the only step needed to partake of the finished nature of the atonement.

William Lane Craig has done some interesting studies on the atonement you would probably enjoy, but there's a few ways I ended up disagreeing with him. He looks for examples in the laws of humans to find an illustration for atonement and came up with corporate identities standing in for individuals—which is interesting and fits somewhat, but the problem is it is based on the morals of humans.

We shouldn't need an example in human legislation to justify atonement, though we might find one to rather simply illustrate atonement, and those are two very distinct things. God's justice does not accord with human values. The closest parallel I've found is the concept of amnesty—amnesty was often offered on certain conditions, such as payments and staying in certain cities, and only accepted when met.

I liked your point on one of your posts about the necessity of union, and I think this is underplayed. The reason justice is truly met is twofold—point one is that crimes are not against a cosmic justice out there, crimes are against God, and because God is the offended party, God has every right to set the terms—and point two is, Jesus actually becomes the criminal by a legal union with us, so that we are one.

Another good example of how atonement works in some capacities to me, is the selling of a mortgage or debt to another person; when your debt is sold to another person, the debt is paid to the first person you owed, but the debt is now owned by the second person who bought it. The second person can choose to release, or choose certain conditions—and that is why I think Christ can set conditions on salvation.

There seems to be major confusion around the idea that any conditions to receiving the atonement have to logically necessitate you are providing some part of the atonement by those conditions, but this is a non-sequitur; it does not follow. God reconciled the world in Christ, and it is in Christ the atonement is already accomplished, but transferring into being a part of Christ is the second step of the process.

The last logical problems concerning the atonement involves how God relates our sins within time and how within the being of God one Person was able to be cut off and punished. It could be considered that God has an aspect outside of time and thus is able to apply the atonement regardless of time. The logical problem of one person of God receiving God's own justice for crimes against him, can be daunting.

The last logical issues concerning the atonement involve Satan and his role. Satan has certain legal rights in his role as the Tempter, and is said to hold the power of death and to have the power of sin over the human race. This needs to be removed for us to receive redemption by our closer Kinsman Redeemer; Satan's rights and power must be removed by an annulment of the covenant made with him and its results.

So humanity becomes legally and experientially sold to sin and cursed, Christ brings the nature of God inside of humanity by becoming a human "under law," Christ fulfills the legal obligations God-wards and then stands in the gap for all the humans' shortcomings, and takes the nature of sin to its complete death removing it, and introduces resurrection life into the equation, all received by faith-producing grace.

That's my take on what atonement means.
 
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Ken Hamrick

Active member
Greetings in Christ, and a very important topic.

I've been enjoying your little series on the atonement, and perhaps my previous posts were not so warmly received because I didn't put enough syrup on the waffles before I cut them. I really enjoy meditating on the atonement, and I think it's a very spiritually healthy thing, but it can seem a bit dauntingly complicated at times to fully understand, however simply the basics can be grasped.

"Atonement being made" is a somewhat ambiguous phrase, and there have always been people who see atonement as a two-step, not one-step process. Making atonement a one-step process contradicts too many Scriptures, because it becomes unilaterally and unconditionally applied, which means we are forgiven before we ask for forgiveness, before we have faith, and before we are regenerated.

The way I see atonement is, it is provided and then it is received, it is paid and then it is accepted, it is accomplished and then it is applied, its potential is created and then its potential is actualized, always in two steps. When Jesus said "It is finished," it really was finished... but only in Christ. The debt, payment, suffering for sin is not the only step needed to partake of the finished nature of the atonement.

William Lane Craig has done some interesting studies on the atonement you would probably enjoy, but there's a few ways I ended up disagreeing with him. He looks for examples in the laws of humans to find an illustration for atonement and came up with corporate identities standing in for individuals—which is interesting and fits somewhat, but the problem is it is based on the morals of humans.

We shouldn't need an example in human legislation to justify atonement, though we might find one to rather simply illustrate atonement, and those are two very distinct things. God's justice does not accord with human values. The closest parallel I've found is the concept of amnesty—amnesty was often offered on certain conditions, such as payments and staying in certain cities, and only accepted when met.

I liked your point on one of your posts about the necessity of union, and I think this is underplayed. The reason justice is truly met is twofold—point one is that crimes are not against a cosmic justice out there, crimes are against God, and because God is the offended party, God has every right to set the terms—and point two is, Jesus actually becomes the criminal by a legal union with us, so that we are one.

Another good example of how atonement works in some capacities to me, is the selling of a mortgage or debt to another person; when your debt is sold to another person, the debt is paid to the first person you owed, but the debt is now owned by the second person who bought it. The second person can choose to release, or choose certain conditions—and that is why I think Christ can set conditions on salvation.

There seems to be major confusion around the idea that any conditions to receiving the atonement have to logically necessitate you are providing some part of the atonement by those conditions, but this is a non-sequitur; it does not follow. God reconciled the world in Christ, and it is in Christ the atonement is already accomplished, but transferring into being a part of Christ is the second step of the process.

The last logical problems concerning the atonement involves how God relates our sins within time and how within the being of God one Person was able to be cut off and punished. It could be considered that God has an aspect outside of time and thus is able to apply the atonement regardless of time. The logical problem of one person of God receiving God's own justice for crimes against him, can be daunting.

The last logical issues concerning the atonement involve Satan and his role. Satan has certain legal rights in his role as the Tempter, and is said to hold the power of death and to have the power of sin over the human race. This needs to be removed for us to receive redemption by our closer Kinsman Redeemer; Satan's rights and power must be removed by an annulment of the covenant made with him and its results.

So humanity becomes legally and experientially sold to sin and cursed, Christ brings the nature of God inside of humanity by becoming a human "under law," Christ fulfills the legal obligations God-wards and then stands in the gap for all the humans' shortcomings, and takes the nature of sin to its complete death removing it, and introduces resurrection life into the equation, all received by faith-producing grace.

That's my take on what atonement means.
The word, atonement, comes from the OT, and is, arguably, not even in the NT. To understand the concept, we must look to where it was defined, which is the OT. There, atonement is not found to be a "2-step process;" unless you can show me how it is. Failure to understand atonement is what causes us to have to resort to saying that God's justice must be from a timeless perspective, or that the atonement was made but not "received yet." Atonement is fundamentally propitiation of God's wrath, which means that the only One who must receive it is God. The atonement does not remove our wrath against God, and we have no power to cause Christ's death to be effective toward us... so what's to receive?

I do like the tone and the truth-seeking nature of your post. I'm just hoping you'll continue in that vein.
 

Dizerner

Well-known member
The word, atonement, comes from the OT, and is, arguably, not even in the NT. To understand the concept, we must look to where it was defined, which is the OT. There, atonement is not found to be a "2-step process;" unless you can show me how it is. Failure to understand atonement is what causes us to have to resort to saying that God's justice must be from a timeless perspective, or that the atonement was made but not "received yet." Atonement is fundamentally propitiation of God's wrath, which means that the only One who must receive it is God. The atonement does not remove our wrath against God, and we have no power to cause Christ's death to be effective toward us... so what's to receive?

I do like the tone and the truth-seeking nature of your post. I'm just hoping you'll continue in that vein.

What???

The concept of atonement is not in the NT???

We don't have to receive reconciliation from God's wrath only God does???

These things make no sense at all to me, I will bow out.
 
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Ken Hamrick

Active member
What???

The concept of atonement is not in the NT???

We don't have to receive reconciliation from God's wrath only God does???

These things make no sense at all to me, I will bow out.
I didn’t say that the concept is not found in the NT. I said it can be argued that the word itself cannot be found there. How are we to understand the concept in the New Testament unless we understand it in the Old?

What we receive is God and His gospel offer of reconciliation with Him. But all the power of reconciliation is in Him. Our reception of God does not in itself remove His wrath. That can only be done by Christ’s death being made ours—by Christ becoming one with us through the Spirit.
 

praise_yeshua

Well-known member
I didn’t say that the concept is not found in the NT. I said it can be argued that the word itself cannot be found there. How are we to understand the concept in the New Testament unless we understand it in the Old?

What we receive is God and His gospel offer of reconciliation with Him. But all the power of reconciliation is in Him. Our reception of God does not in itself remove His wrath. That can only be done by Christ’s death being made ours—by Christ becoming one with us through the Spirit.

Is Atonement propitiation or not?

You can not understand the Atonement without the message of Jesus Christ. The OT never gave an example of appeasement. In fact, the writer of Hebrews said...

Heb 10:3 But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.
Heb 10:4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
Heb 10:5 Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me:
Heb 10:6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.
 

Dizerner

Well-known member
I didn’t say that the concept is not found in the NT. I said it can be argued that the word itself cannot be found there. How are we to understand the concept in the New Testament unless we understand it in the Old?

First of all, no English word is found in the NT or the OT. And Hebrew words cannot by definition be Greek words.

Words that mean a covering or expiation for sins are found in both testaments.

What we receive is God and His gospel offer of reconciliation with Him. But all the power of reconciliation is in Him. Our reception of God does not in itself remove His wrath. That can only be done by Christ’s death being made ours—by Christ becoming one with us through the Spirit.

You just sound confused to me, no offense intended.

Our "reception" is what produces the union, marriages require an "I do" from both sides, and so the allaying of wrath is a part of the union.


Perhaps others will be able to synthesize with your strange ideas better.

Godspeed.
 

Dizerner

Well-known member
For the lurkers:

There is much evidence of a two part atonement in both testaments.

One ready and easy example is the serpent on the pole, which Christ compared himself to; the first step was putting the serpent on the pole, the second step was looking at it.

If someone refused to look on the brass serpent and receive the remedy, would that mean that the serpent was a failure and never really put there? Of course not.

Another great example is when Jesus said:

For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper. (Luk 14:24 NKJ)

Jesus did not say there was no supper for those people, for the supper had already been made.

The first step of the atonement was only Godward in the appeasement needed for propitiation, the second step is the reception and application of the first step towards man.

The more you study the Word the more you will see this principle everywhere you look.
 

civic

Well-known member
First of all, no English word is found in the NT or the OT. And Hebrew words cannot by definition be Greek words.

Words that mean a covering or expiation for sins are found in both testaments.



You just sound confused to me, no offense intended.

Our "reception" is what produces the union, marriages require an "I do" from both sides, and so the allaying of wrath is a part of the union.


Perhaps others will be able to synthesize with your strange ideas better.

Godspeed.
Since when is atonement associated with marriage? Got scripture?

Is that just another one of your philosophic assumptions / ideas that you read into scripture?

hope this helps !!!
 

Dizerner

Well-known member
Since when is atonement associated with marriage? Got scripture?

Is that just another one of your philosophic assumptions / ideas that you read into scripture?

hope this helps !!!

Hello, marriage supper of the THE LAMB?!

What do you think a LAMB stands for civic.

Take your mindless hostile campaign against me somewhere else, please.
 

civic

Well-known member
Hello, marriage supper of the THE LAMB?!

What do you think a LAMB stands for civic.

Take your mindless hostile campaign against me somewhere else, please.
I’m asking for scripture not your ideas and ad hominem attacks.

It should be a simple task if it’s scripture.
 

Ken Hamrick

Active member
First of all, no English word is found in the NT or the OT. And Hebrew words cannot by definition be Greek words.
Words that mean a covering or expiation for sins are found in both testaments.
Obviously. Atonement is found in the OT as kâphar (כָּפַר), which literally means, to cover over (completely, as if by painting or immersion), as with pitch or tar. It refers to the sinner (and his sin) being covered in (or by) the blood of the substitute. See Ex. 29:33-37; 30:10-16; 32:30; Lev. 1:4; 4:20-35; 5:6-18; 7:7; 34; 9:7; 10:17; 12:7-31, 53; 15:15, 30; 16:6-34; 17:11; 19:22; 23:27-28; 25:9; Num. 5:8; 6:11; 8:12-21; 15:25-28; 16:46; 25:13; 28:22-30; 29:5-11; 31:50.

There is no NT Greek word that exactly matches this Hebrew term. The NT Greek has terms for propitiation and for reconciliation, nothing that means, to cover over (completely, as if by painting or immersion), as with pitch or tar. The NT does speak of the concept of atonement by using these other words, but its meaning presupposes an understanding of kâphar (כָּפַר).
You just sound confused to me, no offense intended.
Our "reception" is what produces the union, marriages require an "I do" from both sides, and so the allaying of wrath is a part of the union.
Perhaps others will be able to synthesize with your strange ideas better.

Godspeed.
And you seem confused to me, also.
 

Ken Hamrick

Active member
There is much evidence of a two part atonement in both testaments.

One ready and easy example is the serpent on the pole, which Christ compared himself to; the first step was putting the serpent on the pole, the second step was looking at it. If someone refused to look on the brass serpent and receive the remedy, would that mean that the serpent was a failure and never really put there? Of course not.
That did not picture a 2-part atonement. Rather, it pictured a 2-part salvation: 1-faith, 2-atonement. Those who looked in faith were healed. Now, those who look in faith to Christ are healed from their sin and condemnation by His atoning death. No atonement prior to faith.
Another great example is when Jesus said:

For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper. (Luk 14:24 NKJ)
Jesus did not say there was no supper for those people, for the supper had already been made.
It still was His supper, not theirs to claim.
The first step of the atonement was only Godward in the appeasement needed for propitiation, the second step is the reception and application of the first step towards man.
The more you study the Word the more you will see this principle everywhere you look.
Either God is propitiated or not. If He is, then whoever it was that He was propitiated for is saved--no more wrath. This cannot be the whole world, since we know that many will end up in hell suffering God's wrath. And this cannot be the elect who do not yet believe, since they remain under God's wrath until they believe. So propitiation has not happened for them either. However, Christ is the propitiation available to all men. When any believes, he is joined to Christ and God is then propitiated in his case. For me to be saved, God must do more than see Christ on the cross: God must see the Christ of the cross IN ME.
 
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