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Holman Bible Dictionary
Old Testament The idea of reconciliation between two people and between Israel and God was dominant in the Old Testament though there was no specific term to express it. The Hebrews viewed sin, whether intentional or unintentional, as a breach of the covenant between God and Israel. Sin brought about an estrangement between God and the nation or God and the individual. Provisions were made for Israel and the individual to be restored in God's favor. The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur ) was designated as the day when unintentional sins of the people could be forgiven (Leviticus 16:1-31; Leviticus 23:26-32 ). For these unknown sins the Hebrews were forgiven by the sacrifices and elaborate ritual of the high priest. What about deliberate sins? These could be forgiven only by prayer and repentance. All the sacrifices in the Old Testament could never complete the act of drawing near to God and bringing a sinner into a right relationship with God (Hebrews 10:1-18 ). The Jewish rabbis realized this and taught that a person could be reconciled to God only by good deeds, repentance, and confession. Theirs was a self-reconciliation. A person was the subject, and God was the object. Humans took the initiative to make peace with God; God did not reconcile the person to Himself.
New Testament While the concept of reconciliation is prevalent throughout the New Testament, the term is found only in Paul's Epistles (Romans 5:10-21; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Ephesians 2:16; Colossians 1:20-21; Romans 11:15; 1 Corinthians 7:11 ) and in Matthew 5:23-24 . However, in Matthew a different preposition is used with the Greek verb. Paul saw the need for reconciliation of humans to oneself, other people, and the environment, but his chief interest was in a person being reconciled to God.
When Paul spoke of reconciliation between God and a person, nothing indicated that God had to change His attitude toward humanity. God was not angry at humanity. He did not demand satisfaction be given by someone because His honor and dignity had been degraded by a person or by humanity, nor did a person have to offer up sacrifice to placate His hostility.
Paul did not hint that the attitudes of God and humanity were mutually antagonistic. Hostility and estrangement had its origin in humans. Mankind through indifference, active enmity, and passive hatred had rebelled against God and stood in need of being reconciled to Him. God's creatures defied the divine purpose for life and destroyed the fellowship for which they were intended. They substituted for the true foundation of fellowship a whole series of relationships which formed a kingdom of evil and promoted estrangement from God. Thus, all mankind came under the wrath of God (the situation that pertains when a person is alienated from God).
The Sovereign of the universe, who could rightfully annihilate us, took the initiative in breaking down the estranging barrier between Himself and us. In the Old Testament humans were the subject of the action in attempting to be restored to favor with God, the object. The New Testament reverses the action. God became the subject, and a person the object. Paul said, “All things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:18 ). In the same context he affirmed, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19 ). Again he argued, “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” (Romans 5:10 ). Reconciliation for Paul meant that a complete reversal of the relation between God and humans had been accomplished. Through His love manifested to us in the death of Christ on the cross even while we were in the state of being sinners, God delivered us from law, wrath, sin, and death—the tyrannies that hold humanity in check—and brought us by faith in Christ into a peaceful relationship with Himself.
The New Testament not only reveals God's act of reconciliation in Christ, but it also exhorts us to be reconciled to fellow human beings. Since God has taken the initiative in removing our hostility toward Him, it is incumbent on us to take action in overcoming the enmity that exists between us and others. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught that reconciliation with one's brother was essential to genuine worship of God (Matthew 5:23-24 ). Paul in Ephesians 2:14-18 dramatically proclaimed that through the cross Christ reconciled both Gentile and Jew into one new humanity by terminating the hostility that existed between them. The church is commissioned to perform a ministry of reconciliation ( 2 Corinthians 5:12-21 ). As the body of Christ, we have received the reconciling word, the command and power to be at peace with God and one another.
Paul used other words to express essentially the same concept. When we are reconciled to God, we have peace (Romans 5:1; 1 Corinthians 7:15; Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 4:3; Philippians 4:7; Colossians 3:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:16 ). No longer being alienated from God, we have freedom (Romans 6:22; Romans 8:2; Galatians 5:1 ) and sonship (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5 ). In Romans 5:8-10 and 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 reconciliation is used in conjunction with righteousness of God (justification). They both demonstrate an activity on the part of God in removing the barrier of sin that alienates people from God. See Atonement; Cross; Jesus; Salvation .
T. C. Smith
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Reconcilation'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/r/reconcilation.html. 1991.