the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
RECONCILIATION.—The gospel, in the Pauline acceptation, is peculiarly a message of reconciliation (καταλλαγή). The ministry of the gospel is a ‘ministry of reconciliation.’ Its preaching is a ‘word of reconciliation.’ Its design is that those who receive the message should ‘be reconciled to God’ (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). The word ‘reconcile’ is not found in this connexion in either the Gospels or the other writings of the NT. It is a distinctively Pauline term. The fact is one worth remembering by those who insist so much on the absence of certain other aspects of St. Paul’s doctrine from the Gospels, yet see in ‘reconciliation,’ at least as relates to man, the truest expression for the end of Christ’s mission. If, however, the word is absent from the Gospels, assuredly the reality is there. It is implied, on its Godward side, in Christ’s doctrine of forgiveness of sins as a primary blessing of His Kingdom (Matthew 6:12; Matthew 6:14-15). It is the presupposition of Christ’s whole ministry as directed to the salvation of the lost (Matthew 18:10-14, Luke 19:10); is exhibited in His own gracious and merciful attitude to the sinful and burdened (Matthew 11:28-30, Luke 4:17-21); in His mercy, especially to those whom society regarded as outcasts (Luke 7:36-50 ‘friend of publicans and sinners’; Matthew 11:19, Luke 15:1-2); is involved in His whole revelation of the Father. On the manward side, as necessity, duty, and privilege, it is not less clearly implied in the invitation to come to Him (Matthew 11:28); in the demand for ‘repentance’—a changed mind and life (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15 etc.); in the call to sonship in His Kingdom (Matthew 5:9; Matthew 5:48, Luke 6:35-36 etc.), and to complete surrender of self, and trust in the Father (Matthew 6:24 ff.); in the requirement of a habitual doing of the will of the Father (Matthew 5:48; Matthew 7:21 ff. etc.). The parable of the Prodigal Son is a typical parable or reconciliation (Luke 15:11 ff.). If, in St. Paul’s gospel, reconciliation is made dependent on Christ’s Person and redeeming death, it is certain that in the Gospels also Jesus views the whole Messianic salvation as depending on Himself, and on repeated occasions connects it with His death (John 3:14-15, Matthew 20:28; Matthew 26:28, Luke 24:46-47; see Redemption). This circle of conceptions involved in ‘reconciliation’ is now to be more closely investigated.
In the OT the word ‘reconcile’ occurs several times in the Authorized Version in Leviticus and Ezekiel as the translation of the verb כִּפֶּר, usually rendered ‘to make atonement’ (Leviticus 6:30; Leviticus 8:15; Leviticus 16:20, Ezekiel 45:15; Ezekiel 45:17; Ezekiel 45:20 [Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 translation , as elsewhere, ‘to make atonement,’ ‘atoning’]). The idea here conveyed is that of forgiveness and restoration to Divine fellowship on the ground of a propitiation. Similarly, in the NT, Authorized Version reads in Hebrews 2:17 ‘to make reconciliation for the sins of the people,’ where the word is ἱλάσκεσθαι, and Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 renders, ‘to make propitiation.’ In Daniel 9:24, while the same Heb. word (כִּפֶר) occurs (with direct object), Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 retains the rendering ‘to make reconciliation,’ and puts in the margin, ‘purge away.’ In 2 Chronicles 29:24, again, where Authorized Version has ‘made reconciliation,’ Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 renders more accurately ‘made a sin-offering.’ These OT examples have only an indirect bearing on the NT word, the idea of which is not propitiation but change from variance into a state of friendship. Propitiation, in the OT, no doubt, effected a reconciliation, and, in the NT, reconciliation is made by atonement; but the ideas expressed by the words are nevertheless distinct. The NT term for ‘reconciliation,’ as already indicated, is καταλλαγή (Romans 5:11 [not ‘atonement,’ as Authorized Version ] 11:15, 2 Corinthians 5:18-19). With this are connected the verbs καταλλάσσω (Romans 5:10, 2 Corinthians 5:20; cf. of a wife, 1 Corinthians 7:11), and ἀποκαταλλάσσω (Ephesians 2:16, Colossians 1:20-21). A related form, διαλλάσσω, is used in Matthew 5:24 (pass.) of reconciliation with a brother. But besides these terms, there is in St. Paul, as in other NT writers, a considerable range of words and phrases which express the same idea, e.g. ‘made peace’ (Colossians 1:20; cf. ‘preached peace,’ Acts 10:36, Ephesians 2:17; ‘have peace,’ Romans 5:1); ‘made nigh’ (Ephesians 2:13); ‘turned unto God’ (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10), etc. The general meaning of the Pauline expressions is well brought out in such a passage as Romans 5:10 ‘If, when we were enemies (ἐχθροί), we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son,’ etc.; or in such a declaration (addressed to Gentiles) as that in Colossians 1:21 ‘You, being in time past alienated, and enemies in your mind in your evil works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death.’
There is no dispute, then, that, in St. Paul’s use, and generally, the word καταλλαγή denotes a change from enmity to friendship. The differences in regard to reconciliation in the gospel relate to two other points. (1) On whose side does the change from variance to friendship take place—on God’s side as well as man’s, or on man’s only? Is God as well as man the subject of the reconciliation, or is man only reconciled? (2) By what means is the reconciliation effected? On the first point, the view is very widely held that the reconciliation is on the part of man only (Ritschl, Kaftan, Cambridge Theol. Essays, pp. 206, 217, etc.); God needs no reconciliation. God is eternally propitious to the sinner: it needs only that the sinner change his thoughts and his dispositions towards God. Yet it is very doubtful if, on exegetical grounds, even in regard to the use of the word, this can be sustained. God, indeed, is represented by St. Paul as already reconciled in Christ, i.e. everything is done on His side which is necessary for the restoration of the ungodly to favour. All that is needed now is the reciprocal reconciliation of men to God (Romans 5:6; Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:18-21). But it is still implied that a reconciliation was needed on God’s side as well as on man’s, and it is declared that this has been accomplished once for all in Christ’s Cross (Colossians 1:21-22). It is on the basis of God’s reconciliation to the world in Christ, that the world is now entreated to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20). This, which is the view taken of the meaning of St. Paul’s expressions by the majority of exegetes, is the only one which fully satisfies the connexion of the Apostle’s thought. Sinners, it is implied throughout, are, on account of their sins, the objects of God’s judicial wrath. They are ἐχθροί, a word which, both in Romans 5:10; Romans 11:28, is used in the passive sense of objects of wrath (cf., in latter passage, the contrast with ἀγαπητοί, ‘beloved’). As Prof. Stevens, who disagrees with St. Paul, explains it: ‘Between God and sinful man there is a mutual hostility. Sinners are the objects of God’s enmity (Romans 5:10; Romans 11:28), and they, in turn, are hostile to God (Romans 8:7, Colossians 1:21). Hence any reconciliation (καταλλαγή) which is accomplished between them must be two-sided’ (Christ. Doct. of Salv. p. 59, cf. his Theol. of the NT, p. 414). Quite similar is the view taken by Weiss, in his Bib. Theol. of the NT, i. p. 428 ff. (English translation ); by Denney, in his Romans, on 5:9 ff., and Death of Christ, p. 143 ff.; in art. ‘Reconciliation’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible , etc. St. Paul’s own explanation of his words, ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself,’ by the clause, ‘not reckoning unto them their trespasses’ (2 Corinthians 5:19), makes it clear that the reconciliation intended is on God’s side. If this is granted, the second question is already answered—By what means is the reconciliation effected? For the Apostle’s consistent doctrine is that it was by Christ’s death for our sins that God was reconciled to the world (see Redemption).
The objection, however, will not unfairly be urged—Does it not conflict with a worthy view of God’s character, and detract from the grace of salvation, to think of God as at ‘enmity’ with any of His creatures, and needing to be propitiated or reconciled? Can such a thought have any real place in a gospel of Christ? It may be observed, first, that St. Paul did not regard his doctrine as casting any shadow on the love of God; rather, it is to this love he traces the inception and carrying through of the whole work of man’s salvation. The crowning proof of God’s love is just this fact, that Christ died for us (Romans 5:9). If this seems a paradox, it is to be remembered, next, that displeasure against sin, and even the assertion of holiness against it in the form of wrath, are not incompatible with love to the sinner, and with the most earnest desire to save him. In human relations also there are cases in which a very genuine displeasure requires to be removed before relations of friendship can be restored (cf. Matthew 5:23-24). If God cherishes displeasure at sin at all—and would He be God if He did not?—then there must be a measure of reconciliation on His side, as well as on man’s, even if it be conceived that repentance on man’s part is sufficient to bring it about. But this is the whole point—Does repentance suffice to repair the broken relations of the sinner with a Holy God? And does repentance of the kind required spring up spontaneously in man, or is it not called forth by God first meeting man with a display of His own reconciling love? That this is the truer and more scriptural view cannot be doubted, and it throws us back on what it may be necessary for God to do in approaching a world yet ungodly with the message of His grace. That God has come to the world in the way of a reconciling work by His Son, is certainly no abatement from the love on which depends the possibility of a salvation for the world at all.
The other, or manward, side of reconciliation is one on which a few words will suffice. Its necessity and importance are admitted by all. Estranged from God by his sense of guilt, and alienated in the spirit of his mind, the sinner needs, as the first condition of his salvation, to have this enmity of his heart broken down, and new dispositions of penitence and trust awakened. He needs to be moved to say, ‘I will arise, and go to my Father’ (Luke 15:18). The great dynamic in producing such a change is again the spectacle of God’s reconciling love in Christ. ‘I, if I be lifted up from the earth,’ said Jesus, ‘will draw all men unto me’ (John 12:32). Along both lines, therefore, the Godward and the manward, we come to the Cross of Christ as the centre of the reconciling power of the gospel. By it we are redeemed from the curse (Galatians 2:20; Galatians 3:13); by it the world is crucified to us, and we unto the world (Galatians 6:14). The man who truly realizes his redemption lives no more unto himself, but unto Him who died for him, and rose again (2 Corinthians 5:15).
On the different views which have been held in the Church on Christ’s reconciling work, see art. Redemption.
Literature.—Ritschl, Recht. und Vers. iii. (English translation Justification and Reconciliation); D. W. Simon, Reconciliation by Incarnation; Cambridge Theol. Essays (v.); art. ‘Reconciliation’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible ; works by Stevens and Denney cited above. See also F. W. Robertson, Serm. iv. 208; J. Caird, Univ. Serm. 92; T. Binney, Serm. ii. 51; Phillips Brooks, Serm. for the Principal Festivals, 97; W. P. Du Bose, The Soteriology of the NT (1892), 47.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Reconciliation'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​r/reconciliation.html. 1906-1918.