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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Atonement

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Although found only once in the NT (Romans 5:11) and there in the Authorized Version alone, this word has become the elect symbol in theological thought to indicate the doctrine in the Apostolic Church which placed the death of Christ in some form of causative connexion with the forgiveness of sins and with the restoration of men to favour and fellowship with God. The development of a doctrine of atonement in the NT is almost entirely the product of the experience and thought of the Apostolic Church. It moved along two lines; these were neither divergent nor exactly parallel, nor is it probable that one was precisely supplementary to the other; they are best considered as converging towards an ultimate point of unity in which Godward and manward aspects are merged. They have been contrasted as objective and subjective, juridical and ethical, substitutionary and mystical. They correspond also to two definitions of the word itself. Originally and etymologically the word means ‘at-one-ment’; it is a synonym for ‘reconciliation’ as an accomplished fact. Historically its usage signifies ‘a satisfaction or reparation made by giving an equivalent for an injury, or by doing or suffering that which is received in satisfaction for an offence or injury’ (Imperial Dict., s.v.). Here its synonym is ‘expiation’ as a means to reconciliation. Theologically it has been chiefly used in this latter sense, to indicate ‘the expiation made by the obedience and suffering death of Christ to mark the relation of God to sin in the processes of human redemption.’ A decided modern tendency is to return to the more original use of the word. It will probably be seen that both uses are required to state the fullness of the apostolic doctrine.

The literature preserved in the NT witnesses to the undoubted fact that the Apostolic Church had very early established a close connexion between the death of Jesus the Messiah and the redemption of men from their sins. Within seven years of His death-or probably considerably less-a ‘doctrine of the cross’ was freely and authoritatively preached in the Christian community; it appears to have been distinctly Pauline in general character; it held a primary place in the apostolic preaching; it was declared to be the fulfilment of the OT Scripture; it was set forth as the essence of the gospel, and was definitely referred to the teaching of Jesus for its ultimate authority. This much seems to be implied in what is probably the earliest testimony, if regard be had to the date of the writings in which it occurs, concerning the apostolic doctrine of the atonement. It is St. Paul’s confident assertion, ‘I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received, bow that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:3). This is undoubtedly typical of the teaching accepted by the primitive Church; whatever St. Paul’s differences with other apostolic teachers on other matters may have been, agreement seems to be found here. The confidence of this common witness so early in the Apostolic Church raises many interesting questions, some of which must be considered. To what extent can we find the more elaborate Pauline doctrine, which we shall find elsewhere in his writings, presented in such fragments of the teaching of the first Christians as we possess? How far is the apostolic interpretation of Christ’s death sustained by appeal to the experience and teaching of Jesus Himself? By what means had the swift transition been made by the apostolic teachers themselves from the state of mind concerning the death of Jesus which is presented in the Synoptic Gospels to the beliefs exhibited in their preaching in the Acts? How was the unconcealed dismay of a bewildering disappointment changed into a glorying? It is clear from the contents of the Synoptic Gospels that, whatever the confusion and distress in the minds of His disciples which immediately followed the death of Christ, they were already in possession of memories of His teaching which lay comparatively dormant until they were awakened into vigorous activity by subsequent events and experiences; these, together with the facts of their Lord’s life and the incidents of His death, may be spoken of as the sources of the apostolic doctrine of the atonement, as to its substance. For the forms into which it was cast we must look to the religious conceptions-legal, sacrificial, ethical, and eschatological-which constituted their world of theological ideas, and the background against which was set the teaching of Jesus.

I. Sources

1. In the Synoptic Gospels.-Briefly summarized these are: (1) The intense and consistent ethical interpretation that Jesus gave to the Kingdom He came to establish, and to the conception of the salvation He taught and promised as the sign of its establishment in the individual soul and in the social order. It was no mere change of status; it was a becoming in ethical and spiritual character sons of God in likeness and obedience; it was actual release from the selfishness of the unfilial and unbrotherly life, and access into living communion in holy love with His God and Father.

(2) The Baptism and the Temptation of Jesus, which initiated Him into the course of His public ministry, were events associated in the minds of those who preserved the Synoptic tradition with the voice from heaven, ‘Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased’ (Luke 3:22). Apparently the consciousness of Jesus as He realized His vocation, judging from what He afterwards taught His disciples of its inner meaning, was aware of this combination of Psalms 2:7 with Isaiah 42:1 ff.-the Son of God as King, and the Buffering Servant of the Lord. The inference Denney draws, though obviously open to keen criticism from the eschatological school, has a suggestive value: the Messianic consciousness of Jesus from the beginning was one with the consciousness of the suffering Servant; He combined kingship and service in suffering from the first.* [Note: Death of Christ, 14 f.] This finds support in the accounts of the Temptation, which was supremely a temptation to avoid suffering by choosing the easy way.

(3) All the Synoptics assure us that, when Jesus received the first full recognition of Messiahship from His disciples, He instantly met it by the open confession that His suffering and death were a necessity. ‘The Son of Man must (δεῖ) suffer-must go up to Jerusalem and be killed’ (Mark 8:31, Matthew 16:21, Luke 9:22). Henceforth His constant subject of instruction was concerning His death, which, when ‘the Son of Man was risen from the dead, His disciples were to interpret. The necessity associated with His death was not merely the inevitable sequence of His loyalty to His ideal of righteousness in face of the opposition of His enemies. It was that, but it was more. In the career of one such as Jesus the violent and unjust death to which He was moving could not be separated in thought from the Father’s will to which He was so exquisitely sensitive, and which He came perfectly to fulfil. What was in His Father’s will was appointed and could not be the mere drift of circumstances into which He was cast and from which the Divine purpose was absent. The necessity was inward, and identical with the will of God as expressed in Scripture; to His disciples it was incomprehensible.

(4) Jesus described His death as for others and as voluntarily endured. Definite terms are selected in. which the meaning more than the fact of the death is set forth. ‘The Son of Man came … to minister, and to give his fife a ransom (λύτρον) for many’ (Mark 10:45). Whether we approach the meaning of this term (see Ransom) from Christ’s conception of His life-work as a whole, or by closer exegetical or historical study of the word itself, it is clear that the giving of His life was to Jesus much more than the normal experience of dying; it was a dying which was to issue in largeness and freedom of life for mankind-it was probably even more than ‘on behalf of,’ ‘in the service of’; it was ‘instead of’ (ἀντί) men. From what He is to release them, however, is not definitely stated. The objection often made that the term is an indication of Pauline influence on Mark is part of the general problem of Paulinism in the Gospels, too large for discussion here. The saying is in perfect harmony with its setting.

(5) The other selected term is connected with the critically difficult passages recording the institution of the Supper. ‘This is my blood of the covenant [possibly the ‘new’ covenant] which is shed for many unto remission of sins’ (Matthew 26:28). Here the purpose or ground of the death of Jesus is set forth. It is only just to say that Matthew alone makes the reference to ‘remission of sins.’ The earliest account of the Supper-St. Paul’s (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)-omits this reference; he is followed by Mark and Luke. Questions also turn on the sacrificial significance of ‘blood of the covenant.’ The reference is obviously to the solemn ratification by blood-sprinkling of the covenant of Sinai (Exodus 24:8). Whether this was strictly sacrificial blood with expiatory value is debated. Robertson Smith* [Note: Sem.2, London, 1894, p. 319 f.] and Driver† [Note: HDB, art. ‘Propitiation,’ iv. 132.] may both be quoted in favour of the view that ‘sacrificial blood was universally associated with propitiatory power.’‡ [Note: Denney, Death of Christ, 53.] Whilst too much should not be built upon a single authority for the precise word of Jesus, the criticism does not touch the value of the citation as an index to the mind of the Apostolic Church.

(6) The awful isolation of the cry of Jesus on the cross, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (Mark 15:34) cannot easily be separated in the experience of the sinless Son of Cod from some mysterious connexion with the sin He clearly came to deal with by His death. It is at least capable of the suggestion that for a time His consciousness had lost the sense of God’s presence, whose unbroken continuity had hitherto been the ethical and spiritual certainty of His spirit.

To complete the material provided for the apostolic doctrine in the Synoptics there should be added to the points already mentioned the minuteness and wealth of detail-quite without parallel in the presentation of other important features of His life-with which the death of Jesus is recorded, and also the extent to which the writers insist upon the event as a fulfilment of the OT Scriptures We have, therefore, in the Synoptics, whatever view may be taken of the position largely held, that they were the issue of ‘the productive activity’ of the early Church under the stimulating influence of redemptive experiences attributed to the death of Christ, at least the starting-point of the ethical and juridical views of the atonement subsequently developed in the primitive community; they lack doctrinal definiteness, and distinctly favour the ethical more than the legal view of the process of redemption; they are also accompanied by evidences that the disciples listened unintelligently or with reluctant acquiescence to the words of Jesus concerning His death. This last feature indicates the dependence of the apostolic doctrine upon another source.

2. The apostolic experience.-The doctrine of atonement arose out of the Christian experience; it was the issue of a new religious feeling rather than a condition of faith. The springs of tins new spiritual emotion must be sought, if the doctrine which is its result in the Apostolic Church is to be rightly appreciated. In this way also we shall provide a statement of the transition from the desolation wrought by the death of Jesus in the hopes of His followers to the triumphant temper and abounding joy of the primitive faith and preaching. The elements of this experience are:

(1) The Resurrection.-This is the starting-point of the new experience; the ultimate root of the apostolic doctrine of atonement was the presence of the Risen Christ in the consciousness of the primitive Christian community; for it was the secret of the restoration and enrichment of personal faith, the re-creation of the corporate confidence of the community which ‘was begotten again unto a, living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’ (1 Peter 1:3). It was also the revealing light that brought meaning into the mystery of His death. Now and for always these two-death and resurrection-stood together. When the apostles stated the one, they implied the other; the Resurrection was the great theme of the apostolic preaching because it interpreted the significance of the Death. Both were closely and instinctively connected with the forgiveness of sins: ‘The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew, hanging him upon a tree. Him did God exalt with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel and remission of sins’ (Acts 5:30 f.). The redeeming virtue issues from the Death and Resurrection as from a common source, though the cross ultimately became its chosen symbol. Beginning to search the Scriptures to discover whether death had a place in the prophetic presentation of the Messiah, the disciples were surprised into the apprehension of the meaning of the words of Jesus spoken whilst He was yet with them; they thus came to see that the Death was only the shadow side of an experience by which He passed to the exaltation and authority of His redeeming work; the catastrophe was seen to have a place in the moral order of God, and the scandal of the cross was transfigured into the glory of the Divine purpose of redemption. This experience was followed by-

(2) The Great Commission.-The terms of this are influential for discerning the apostolic doctrine. As they appear in Mt. (Matthew 28:19 f.) and in Mk. (Mark 16:15 f.) associated with baptism, which in the primitive Church was always connected with remission of sins, they are suggestive, but not free from critical difficulties. As they appear in Lk. (Luke 24:44 ff.). from an excellent source, they have their chief significance’ they are there bound up with ‘my words which I spake unto you while I was yet with you’; with the fulfilling of the Scriptures concerning the necessity that ‘the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name’; and especially with the opening of the minds of those who were to be ‘witnesses of these things’ that they might understand them. The historicity of this as conveying the experience and convictions of the Apostolic Church is strong, and it affords exactly the link needed to unite what we find in the Synoptics with what appears as preaching and teaching in the primitive society. The illumination of the apostolic mind for its construction of a doctrine of atonement resulting from the Resurrection and the Great Commission was perfected by the experiences of-

(3) Pentecost.-The coming to abide with them of the Holy Spirit, ‘the promise of the Father’ (Acts 1:4), ‘the Spirit of Christ,’ was for the Apostolic Church the ultimate certainty of guidance into all the truth, and the supreme authority for its adequate utterance. The work of the Spirit as Jesus had defined it was; ‘He shall take of mine and shall declare it unto you’ (John 16:14). To the fullness of His ministry the Apostolic Church owed the interpretation of the cross, the inspiration of its preaching, the construction of its doctrine, and especially the moral and spiritual results in the life of the individual and of the community which were the living verification of its power, and also the justification of the moral grounds on which the declaration and experience of remission of sins were based. The meaning of the words of Jesus is understood through the works of His Spirit; the significance of His death can be apprehended only in the light of the experience it creates. Only so can an adequate soteriology be reached. From first to last the apostolic doctrine of the atonement is the effort to interpret this experience in the relations in which it was conceived to stand to the Christian conceptions of God and man.

II. The doctrine preached

1. In the Acts of the Apostles.-The early chapters of the Acts contain the one particular account of the earliest form the doctrine of atonement took in the Apostolic Church; for it is generally admitted that some source of considerable value underlies the speeches of Peter. Both their christology and soteriology are primitive in type-it is surely not the doctrine of the 2nd century. In this account the sufferings and death of Jesus the Messiah have a fundamental place. The cross is now more than a scandal; the ‘word of the cross’ is more than an apologetic device for getting over the difficulties of accepting a crucified Messiah. Although the great feature of the apostolic preaching is not the explanation of the death of Christ in relation to the remission of sins, but its power in spiritual renewal, it contains much which enables us to perceive how the primitive community was taught to regard it. Summarized, this is-(1) The death of Christ was a Divine necessity, appointed by God’s counsel and foreknowledge It was a crime whose issue God thwarted for His redeeming purpose (Acts 2:23; Acts 3:18).-(2) Jesus as the Messiah is identified with the suffering Servant of the Lord (Acts 4:27; Acts 8:32-35). This conception, abhorrent to the Jewish mind and a sufficient ground for rejecting the Messianic claims of Jesus, is the assertion of the vicarious principle of the righteous one suffering for the unrighteous many and also the sign of a Divine fellowship.-(3) The great gift of the gospel-remission of sins-is set in direct relation to the crucified Jesus (Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19; Acts 5:31; Acts 10:43). The prominence given to this in every sermon suggests that this connexion cannot be considered accidental.-(4) Reference to the frequent observance of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42). When it is remembered that nothing in the Apostolic Church is more primitive than the sacraments, and that both of them bear implications of Christ’s relation to the remission of sins, this reference is significant.-(5) Christ’s death is not distinctly represented as the ground of forgiveness, by setting forth the Messiah’s death as a satisfaction for sin or as a substitute for sin’s penalty. It is set forth as a motive to repentance and a means of turning men away from sin, but its saving value is not more closely defined. It is certain, however, that the early Apostolic Church attached a saving significance to the death of Christ.

2. In 1 Peter.-It is usual to associate with the indications of the doctrine in the early chapters of Acts the constructive tendencies found in 1 Peter. The Epistle of James is too uncertain in its date and authority, and its aim is too purely practical to warrant appeal to it on the apostolic doctrine of atonement. Indeed 1 Peter is far from being free from difficulty when used for this purpose. The signs of Pauline influence are too strong for its use as a source of primitive Christian ideas without some hesitation. Still, the fact that St. Paul and St. Peter are represented as in harmony on the significance of the redemptive work of Christ, when they are manifestly at variance in other important factors of the primitive faith, is not without its value; it is possible also that their similarities may be accounted for by their common loyalty to the accepted Christian tradition. Taken as it stands, St. Peter’s contribution may be epitomized thus: (1) Whilst the suffering death of Christ holds, as elsewhere in apostolic writings, the central place, its strongest appeal is made in regard to the moral quality of the sufferings. The patience and innocence of the Sufferer for righteousness’ sake control its theological presentation. The exhortation to suffer with Christ by expressing His spirit in the life of discipleship obviously emphasizes the ethical appeal of His example, but this is based upon a due appreciation of His sufferings on our behalf. Quite a procession of theological ideas thus emerges.-(2) The covenant idea with its sacrificial implication in ‘sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ’ is present (1 Peter 1:2), possibly reminiscent of the words at the Supper.-(3) Ransomed ‘with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, even the blood of Christ’ (1 Peter 1:19), combines the idea of the sacrificial lamb with possibly an echo of the ‘ransom’ of Mark 10:45.-(4) The close connexion of Christ who ‘suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps, and its ethical appeal, with the clear interpretation of the Passion as a sin-bearing, ‘who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree’ (1 Peter 2:24), and its profound moral issues, ‘that we having died unto sins, might live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed’-shows how intimately what are termed the objective and subjective conceptions of the atonement are associated in the writer’s thought; the end is moral and dominates the means, but the means are clearly substitutionary, to the extent that the obligations to righteousness involved in ‘our sins’ are assumed by the sinless Lamb of God.-(5) The writer once again glides with simple ease and familiarity from the force of the example of Christ to the abiding fact of His sin-bearing (1 Peter 3:18): ‘Because Christ also suffered for sins once (ἅπαξ, ‘once fur all’), the righteous for (ὑπέρ) the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.) Access to God is regarded as a high privilege obtained by a great self-surrender and not as a native right to be taken for granted. Of course these ideas, which the writer of 1 Peter discusses in this apparently incidental way, are closely akin to those of the righteousness by faith and ethical obedience ‘in Christ’ which St. Paul discusses so fully and of set purpose in Romans 3, 6 respectively, and this may suggest his influence. If so, then the evidence of 1 Peter will fall into the Later Pauline period of apostolic doctrine, which we shall now consider at length; but that would not depreciate its value as a witness to the faith of the Apostolic Church in its wider range.

III. The doctrine developed

1. The Pauline type.-It will be obvious to any reader of the literature of the Apostolic Church that its doctrine of atonement was the subject of considerable development in form. In tracing this the Pauline writings must be our main source. Of all NT writers, St. Paul goes into the greatest detail and has most deliberately and continually reflected upon this subject. Indeed, the abundance of the material he provides is embarrassing to any one seeking a unified doctrine. In St. Paul we find for the first time a philosophy of the death of Christ in relation to the forgiveness of sins, which is ultimately based upon an analysis of the Divine attributes and their place in the interpretation of the doctrine of the cross. At the same time the emphasis he lays upon this is regarded by him as in accordance with the belief and teaching of the primitive community; it is the centre of his gospel and theirs. It may be assumed, therefore, that we are as likely to learn from him as from any other source what was the inner meaning of the primitive Christian belief. He declared that what he preached concerning the dying of Christ for our sins according to the Scriptures he ‘received’ (1 Corinthians 15:3). Whilst it is possible that this statement finds a fuller definition in his further assertion, ‘Neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 1:12), it seems clear that St. Paul’s doctrine rested upon the common apostolic data given in (1) the words of Jesus respecting the necessity of His death on man’s behalf; (2) the very early Christian idea that it was included in the Divine purpose; (3) the conception of the vicarious sufferings of the righteous and their merit founded on Is 53 which had been elaborated in later Jewish thought.* [Note: Stevens, Christian Doctrine of Salvation, 59, 122.] Although it seems clear that this late Jewish doctrine was a source of St. Paul’s theory, it underwent partial transformation at his hands; it was ethicized; moreover, it was probably the vicarious idea, as it was associated with the prophetic rather than with the priestly or legal conceptions, that he appropriated; it was not the literal legal substitution and transfer, but the vicariousness of a real experience in which the righteous bear upon their hearts the woes and sins of the sinful.† [Note: G. A. Smith, Mod. Crit. and Preaching of OT, London, 1901, p. 120 ff.]

(1) St. Paul’s early preaching.-The earliest Indication of St. Paul’s view of atonement would naturally be sought in his preaching during the fifteen or more years before he wrote the letters in which he sets forth more deliberately and with obvious carefulness his matured doctrinal judgments. The author of the Acts gives little light on St. Paul’s method of setting out his interpretation of the death of Christ in his discourses; how he was accustomed to place it in relation to forgiveness of sin in his earliest preaching does not definitely appear. The discourse at Antioch in Pisidia may illustrate the character of his reference to it: ‘through this man is preached unto you forgiveness of sins’ (Acts 13:38); but nothing is defined more closely. To the Ephesian elders at Miletus be speaks about ‘the Church of God, which he purchased with his own blood’ (Acts 20:28). St. Paul himself gives us the only valuable account of his preaching, its dominant topic was the crucifixion-‘the preaching of the cross’ (1 Corinthians 1:18); ‘I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2:2). No explanation is given. But the fact that he made the cross supreme when it was regarded as a direct antagonism and provocative by those he sought to win-a scandal to Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles-implies that it was associated with an interpretation that made it something different from a martyrdom. Such a martyrdom neither Jew nor Greek would have regarded with the scorn they exhibited for the interpretation St. Paul gave them in order to meet their challenge for explanation.

(2) The Pauline Epistles.-On the whole, St. Paul’s preaching carries us no further towards a knowledge of any reasoned doctrine of atonement than the position reached in the preaching of his fellow-apostles-that ‘Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.’ Of course this is in itself a vast doctrinal implication. Still, for the structure of the Pauline doctrine we are shut up to his teaching in his Epistles. In his earliest writings-the Thessalonian Epistles.-we practically get no further towards his doctrine than in his preaching, except perhaps that the idea emerges that in some way Christ identifies Himself with our evil that He may identify us with Himself in His own good (1 Thessalonians 5:9 f.). We meet the organized body of his doctrine in the well-authenticated group of his writings to the Galatians, Romans, and Corinthians, with a supplementary view in the Imprisonment. Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians. We may differentiate this teaching, but it has throughout most important underlying principles in common. It falls conveniently into five divisions-Atonement and Law; Atonement and Righteousness; Atonement and Personality; Atonement and Newness of Life; Atonement and the Universe. In briefly reviewing these, it should be remembered that according to St. Paul the love of God is the first arid last motive of redemption, and that none of the atoning processes is separable from the full activities of the Divine Personality.

(a) Atonement and Law.-This is the form in which St. Paul construes his doctrine in the Galatian I Epistle, which deals more exclusively than any other NT document with the significance of the death of Christ. ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for (ὑπέρ) us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth upon a tree’ (Galatians 3:13). The conception here is distinctly juridical; whether it is also penal will depend upon the definition of ‘penal.’ If punishment implies guilt, the sufferings of Christ were not. strictly penal, for He is always set forth as guiltless; moreover, guilt cannot be transferred as guilt. His sufferings did, in St. Paul’s judgment, serve the end of punishment: they were representatively penal; Christ took the place of the guilty as far as it involved penal consequences; for special emphasis is laid upon the instrument of death-the cross-and upon its curse, though there seems nothing to justify the attributing to Christ of the position suggested by the allusion to Deuteronomy 21:23 of one ‘accursed of God’ which has at times been pressed by expositors. That He endured the consequences of such a position and in this sense was ‘made a curse on our behalf’ is the Apostle’s application of it. This endurance is regarded as the recognition of the just requirement of the law of God-not the ceremonial law alone, but also the moral demands arising out of God’s holy and righteous nature, and especially those which empirically St. Paul had put to tine test in vain in his seeking after personal righteousness. St. Paul does not deny the authority of this law; he asserts it, but the fact that it was added to the promise for ‘the sake of transgression’ resulted in its making men sinful; it brought a curse: ‘Cursed is every one which continued, not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them’ (Galatians 3:10). With this curse in its consequences Christ identifies Himself, as in the Apostle’s thought He had identified Himself with mankind in being ‘born of a woman, born under the law’ (Galatians 4:4). By thus making Himself absolutely one with those under ban, absorbing into Himself all that it meant, He removed the obstacle to forgiveness in the righteous attitude of God towards sin which could not be overcome until sin had been virtually punished. It was thus that the way was opened for man to identify himself by personal faith and living experience with Christ’s death, so that St. Paul was justified in saying: ‘For I through the law died unto the law, that I might live unto God. I have been crucified with Christ: yet I live: and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me’ (Galatians 2:19 f.)

This conception of St. Paul’s adds the ethical idea of atonement to the juridical, which other passages reiterate (Galatians 5:24; Galatians 6:14). It is, however, essentially Pauline to regard the ethical as depending for its possibility and efficacy in experience upon the juridical; otherwise ‘Christ died for nought.’ God must vindicate His law so that He may justly forgive; the operation of grace is connected with the assertion of justice. But ultimately St. Paul’s conception really transcends these contrasts; for it is God Himself who in His love provides the way to be both just and gracious; He, not another, provides the satisfaction. In the last analysis God is presented as removing His own obstacles to forgiveness; the death in which His righteous law is exhibited is the provision of His antecedent love; the commending of His love is the prior purpose resulting in Christ being ‘made a curse on our behalf.’* [Note: P. Wernle, Anfänge unserer Religion, Tübingen, 1901, p. 146; Stevens, Christian Doctrine of Salvation, 67.] Consequently the whole Christian life is resolved into a response to God’s love exhibited in the death of His Son; it does away with the hindrance to forgiveness in God’s law, and at the same time inspires the faith which conducts into ethical conformity to Christ in man’s experience.

(b) Atonement and Righteousness.-This is dealt with exhaustively in the Epistle to the Romans; the great question the Epistle discusses is-How shall a sinful man be righteous with God? and the answer is-By receiving ‘a righteousness of God’ which is ‘revealed from faith to faith.’ In the interpretation of this answer we reach the heart of the apostolic doctrine, and upon it the great bulk of later historical discussions has turned. For more than the briefest hints here given of the points of exegesis involved, reference should be made to commentaries on the Epistle. St. Paul distinctly states the two aides of the meaning of atonement referred to in the beginning of this article. But his interest is primarily absorbed by the efficient cause of at-one-ment as the ideal end, viz. the atonement, the Divine provision of the satisfaction which the Divine righteousness requires to be exhibited in order that forgiveness of sins may be bestowed and a restoration of fellowship between God and man achieved. To this he devotes his utmost strength; he regards it as primary in the order of thought as well as in the redemptive process. Still he is nobly loyal to both conceptions, if, indeed, they were for him really two; for he thinks of the unity of the process with the end as exhibiting the perfectness of the Divine purpose of grace. This point will be discussed later. Meanwhile it must be pointed out that the strong divergencies revealed in the interpretation of the apostolic doctrine have frequently resulted from regarding one or other of these phases of the Pauline doctrine as in itself adequate to explain the whole. Ethical theories have sought to ignore the juridical means; juridical theories have often stopped short of the ethical end. The Pauline doctrine does neither. Both are met in the conception, essential to his doctrine, of the ideal and actual identification of Christ with man in his sin, and of man with Christ in newness of life; and also in the identification of both with God in His unchanging righteousness and in His eternal love; for St. Paul with ceaseless loyalty carries all the processes of redemption in time up to the initiative and executive of the Divine purpose.

Righteousness is the starting-point of his discussion; it, is seen in ‘the wrath of God revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men’ (Romans 1:18). Cod can never be at peace with sin. Law brings no righteousness; ‘by the law is the knowledge of sin’ (Romans 3:20). All have sinned; not one is righteous; the necessity for a righteousness apart from the law is obvious. The provision of this, ‘even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ unto all them that believe’ (Romans 3:22), is the Divine atonement. This implies, of course, in its completion a great moral and spiritual change in the nature and character of those who ‘have received the atonement’; that end does not jet receive St. Paul’s attention; his mind is preoccupied with the means. He is not even at present intent on demonstrating the necessity of this ethical transformation; he is in subjection to the arresting fact that all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men was exposed to the Divine wrath, and is constrained to show how the wrath was withheld. This was not primarily to be sought in the measure in winch men might be arrested by the fact and cease to sin; they must and would do that in proportion as they received the atonement. But for the time being St. Paul is confining his thought entirely to the ‘objective’ work of Christ in the atonement, whereby was provided and set forth the means by which the ‘subjective’ work of Christ in personal union with the believing soul might be possible; indeed, in some respects it had been actual also in the past, for sins had already been remitted by God. ‘Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, by his blood, to show his righteousness, because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God; for the showing, 1 say, of his righteousness at this present season; that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus’ (Romans 3:24 ff.).

Thus St. Paul conceived the method of deliverance from the wrath of God which was inevitable in the presence of unrighteousness; it is an objective work and is in response to faith, however full of personal renewal in righteousness its ethical implications may eventually become; for the destruction of sin and the gift of life are regarded as depending upon a free bestowal on sinners of a righteousness of God. The interpretation of this crucial passage and its context depends upon the meaning assigned to the terms ‘righteousness of God’ and propitiation.’ The idea expressed in the former term occupies the central place in St. Paul’s conception of atonement. Righteousness was his passion; its quest the summum bonum of his life; ‘he had sought it long in vain, and when at length he found it he gave to it a name expressive of its infinite worth to his heart: the righteousness of God.’* [Note: Bruce, St. Paul’s Conception of Christianity, 146.] To this title-‘a righteousness of God’-he firmly adheres; it is distinctive; to him it is something belonging to the Christian man, yet it is not his personal righteousness of character; he receives it. It also belongs to God, but it is not His personal righteousness which is imparted to the believer. St. Paul’s conception of it does not occur in the Gospels, where the term stands for the righteousness of which God is the centre, which is His essential attribute. The nearest approach to the Pauline sense in the teaching of Jesus is the grace of God in the free pardon of sin. In St. Paul, righteousness is a ‘gift’ from God to him who believes in Christ. He is dealt with as righteous. To regard the righteousness of God as essentially self-imparting, taking hold of human lives and filling them with its Divine energies, without any reference to the problem sin has created, is not Pauline. To St. Paul, as well as to all NT teaching, God’s righteousness was the affluent, overflowing source of all the goodness in the world, but he felt that sin made a difference to God; it was sin against His righteousness; and His righteousness had to be vindicated against it; it could not ignore it.

Any view which failed to appreciate this problem would miss the characteristic solution that St. Paul unceasingly presents in the ‘propitiation’ in the blood of Christ, ‘whom God had set forth to show his righteousness in passing over sins done aforetime. Ritschl’s view, that always in St. Paul the righteousness of God means the mode of procedure which is consistent with God’s having the salvation of believers as His end,* [Note: Rechtfertigung und Versöhnung, ii. 117.] overlooks the emphatic contention of the Apostle, that it is the ungodly to whom God is gracious rather than the faithful within the covenant privilege; this latter is the class referred to in the Psalms and Second Isaiah, to whom God exhibited His righteousness in presence of the wrongs done them by their enemies. Ritschl’s conception is an attractive presentation of the meaning of the term in other relations, but it is irrelevant to St. Paul’s distinctive meaning. The suggestive view of the term expounded by Seeberg in Der Tod Christi, that the righteousness of God means simply His moral activity to harmony with His true character, the norm of which is that He should institute and maintain fellowship with men; that if He did not do so He would not be righteous and would fail to act in His proper character, leaves unanswered in any distinctive Pauline fashion the question what means Cod takes to secure fellowship with sinful men so that He may act towards the ungodly in a way which does justice to Himself St. Paul does not leave the presentation of Christ as a means by which this fellowship may be instituted, without a much closer definition; he clearly relates it to the vicarious principle lying for him in his elect word ‘propitiation,’ whether it be taken as a strictly sacrificial term or not (see, in addition, article Propitiation).

Denney, who discusses these views at length,† [Note: Death of Christ, 164 ff.] maintains that the righteousness of God has not the same meaning throughout this passage (Romans 3:21 ff.); it has ‘in one place-say in Romans 3:22 -the half-technical sense which belongs to it as a summary of St. Paul’s gospel; and in another-say in Romans 3:26 -the larger and more general sense which might belong to it elsewhere in Scripture as a synonym for God’s character, or at least for one of His essential attributes.’ But these two views are not unrelated; they cannot be discussed apart; we see them harmonized as complements in the true meaning of ‘propitiation.’ Christ is set forth by God as a propitiation to exhibit their unity and consistency with each other. When the Pauline view of ‘propitiation,’ as ‘relative to some problem created by sin for a God who would justify sinners,’ is accepted in a substitutionary sense and the argument of the passage reaches its climax, the two senses of the righteousness of God in it ‘have sifted themselves out, so to speak, and stand distinctly side by side.’‡ [Note: ibid 165.] God is the Just in His own character; and at the same time, in providing it righteousness of God through faith, which stands to the good of the believing sinner, He is the Justifier. That both these meanings are present in atonement and are there harmonized with one another, is what St. Paul seeks to bring out.

St. Paul would show God righteous in His forbearance in ‘the passing over of sins done aforetime.’ But, as he defines the effects of the propitiation, he leaves the wrath of God in the background; the forbearance of God becomes the centre of his thought; that is a gracious fact and must be accounted for. Why has God never dealt with sinful men according to their sins? He has always been slow to anger and of great kindness, a gracious God and merciful; sins done aforetime were passed over. Does the doing of this impugn His righteousness? St. Paul finds his apology for, and explanation of, the universal graciousness of God in the propitiation which He has set forth in Christ by His blood. God cannot be charged with moral indifference because He has always been God, the Saviour. Sin has never been a trivial matter; any omission to mark it by inflicting its full penal consequences has been due to forbearance, which now in the propitiation justifies itself to His righteousness. If, apart from this, God had invested with privilege those whose sin deserved the manifestation of His wrath, He would, St. Paul thinks, have suppressed His righteousness. To show the Justifier, whether ‘in respect of sins done aforetime’ or ‘at this present season,’ to be Himself just, St. Paul holds the setting forth of His righteousness by the propitiation in the blood of Christ to be necessary. Christ’s death, therefore, was something more than a great ethical appeal of the love of God in suffering for sin to the heart and conscience of men; it had been rendered necessary by the remission of sins in ages before the Advent, as well as to justify the readiness and desire of God to remit the sins of any man who ‘at this present season’ ‘hath faith in Jesus.’

This exaltation of the forbearance of God as the ultimate explanation of the propitiation is intended to make known the ultimate fact that the wrath of God against sin lies within the supreme constraint of the love of God-‘His own love’ which He commendeth toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:6 ff.). Christ was set forth by God Himself; His love provided the propitiation; there was no constraint upon Christ. He gave Himself up for us; there was no conflict between the Divine wrath and the Divine love; they were reconciled in God, and their reconciliation set forth in the propitiation in the blood of Christ. The wrath is the expression and minister of the love; mere self-consideration is unknown in the Divine activity. Moreover, where the love has prevailed, the wrath fails, ‘While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us; much more then being now justified in his blood shall we be saved through him from the wrath. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life’ (Romans 5:8 ff.). The achievement of redemption in its ethical value proceeds from the death of Christ as the supreme demonstration of the Divine love, by evoking in sinful souls the response of a personal surrender to the newness of life to which it constrains. This may introduce the classical passage in St. Paul’s writings on the doctrine of atonement. ‘All things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses, and having committed unto us the word of reconciliation. We are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us; we beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God, Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Corinthians 5:18 ff.). The Pauline doctrine receives its most satisfying and probably its most permanent interpretation in the restoration of acceptable personal relations between God and man, and the perfecting of these in a fellowship of holy love.

(c) Atonement and Personality.-Love, the perfect expression of the Divine Personality, constrained God to identify Himself in Christ with us, and constrains us to identify ourselves in Christ with God. Personality finds its perfection in fellowship; self-identification with others is the ultimate of fellowship. Identification is the principle on which an interpretation of reconciliation most easily proceeds (see Reconciliation). Love is essentially self-impartation. Reconciliation is an exchange, the giving and receiving of love; ‘at-one-ment’ is its issue. This is based in the Pauline thought upon the Divine initiative. God ‘made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf,’ that there might be identification of righteousness as well as of love in the reconciliation, ‘that we might become the righteousness of God in him,’ ‘not reckoning unto men their trespasses.’ These words suggest the idea of such an identification of men ‘in Christ’ that there is on God’s part a general justification of mankind in the form of a non-imputation of sins, on the purely objective ground of God’s satisfaction by self-giving in Him who knowing no sin was made sin on our behalf, Individual identification of man will follow, as, in response to God’s entreating, each man is reconciled to God. ‘For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died; and be died for all, that they which live should no longer live unto themselves, but to him who for their sakes died and rose again’ (2 Corinthians 5:14 f.). As the race died in Christ, His death is a true crisis in every man’s history; there is a new creation, which includes both a new status and a new creature. That all died in Christ is neither wholly subjective nor wholly objective. St. Paul’s full doctrine requires both; their death is died by Him, and His death is died by thorn. But in the order of thought He must first die their death, that they may die His. We never read that God has been reconciled; He reconciled Himself to the world in Christ, but men are reconciled or ‘receive the reconciliation.’ St. Paul’s judgment is that the atonement is a finished work, but that the ‘atonement’ is progressive; reconciliation is first a work wrought on men’s behalf before it is wrought within their hearts; it is a work outside of men, that it may be a work within them; there is objective basis: for the subjective experience.

Some interpreters, e.g. Denney,* [Note: Death of Christ, 145.] would limit the reconciliation to what God in Christ has done outside of up; others, e.g. Kaftan,† [Note: Dogmatik, § 52 ff.] hold that nothing is to be called reconciliation unless men are actually reconciled. St. Paul’s doctrine is consistent with the view that reconciliation is both something which is done and something which is being done. The expression of that which is done and the source of that which is being done are seen in the solemn assertion that God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf. No exegesis is more than a halting interpretation of the profound significance of this saying. At least the words mean that He died for our sin in regard to its consequences. They seem, however, to mean more; but in what sense God’s love in the gift of Christ can be said to be identified with ‘sin on our behalf,’ it is impossible to say. Certain it is that St. Paul had other and more usual ways of saying that the sinless One was a sin-bearer in the sense of an offering for sin. The strength of the saying is that He died to all that sin could mean, and that, in this dying unto sin once for all, the race with which Ho identified Himself in His sufferings and death died with Him; it is a death which contains the death of all, rather than solely a death which would otherwise have been died by all; in it their trespasses are not imputed unto them, and by the constraint of its demonstration of love they live not unto themselves but unto Him who died for them and rose again. The statement that all this was the work of ‘God in Christ’ suffices to refute any reading of the process of reconciliation which suggests a contrast that approaches competition between the righteousness of Cod and the love of Christ. It is identification which is supreme here. For, while it is no doubt true that the conception of Christ as substitute suits the interpretation of His death as sacrificial, the idea of representation best accords with the whole group of passages from which by induction St. Paul’s law of redemption is to be gathered. In these, Christ appears as a central Person, in whom the race is gathered into an ethical unity, having one responsibility and one inheritance. In this identity even those realities usually regarded as inseparable from personality, such as sin and righteousness, are treated as separable entities passing freely from the one participant in the identification to the other-sin to the Sinless One, righteousness to the unrighteous. An objective identity of this order, however, does not permanently satisfy so keen a thinker as St. Paul; he cannot rest short of subjective identity between Redeemer and redeemed. Not only in virtual oneness by Divine appointment, but in actual union by living experience, is identification to be achieved. This provides the basis for St. Paul’s teaching on-

(d) Atonement and Newness of Life.-The work of redemption was not wholly a matter of juridical substitution and imputation. Another line of thought of great importance is pursued, besides the freeing from the curse and the deliverance from wrath. The relation of men to the salvation of Christ is not purely passive.* [Note: C. McGiffert, Apostolic Age, Edinburgh, 1897, p. 120.] They must enter into intimate union of life with Him. They must die in effect with Christ to sin on His cross, and rise with Him in newness of life. Through their faith they constitute His mystical body; they have corporate identity with Him in ‘the life which is life indeed’; they are saved from the power as well as the guilt of sin; freedom from the law of sin and death completes the release from its condemnation; the release from past sin in the atonement in Christ’s death does not exhaust its aim; it involves the actual renunciation of the selfish life and the realization of the life of holy love.

Although this conception is not wholly out of mind in chs. 3 and 4 of Romans and elsewhere (cf. Galatians 2:19 f., Colossians 2:20; Colossians 3:3, Philippians 3:9 f.), in which the juridical view of Christ’s death is developed, it finds its full presentation in reply to an imaginary objection to the juridical view in Romans 6 and the following three chapters. The question, Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? starts St. Paul upon an exposition of the essential relation between the righteousness which is by faith in Christ as ‘propitiation,’ and the righteousness which is personal and real, through vital fellowship with His death and resurrection; ‘crucified with him, buried with him, raised with him,’ believers also walk with Him ‘in newness of life.’ There is something in the experience of Christ which they repeat so far as its ethical implications can be realized in their own experience; for the closest of links exists between the saving deed of Christ and the ethical issues of the salvation it has brought about. Although St. Paul does not make any direct use of the spotless holiness and perfect obedience of Christ save in so far as they issue in His death, still these ethical qualities of the Redeemer become the ethical demand in the redeemed as their union of life with Him is unfolded. The great Pauline conception ‘in Christ’ is required to complete on its ethical side the salvation which is ‘through Christ’ on the legal side.

In recent exposition the relation between these two-the ‘subjective-mystical’ view of salvation and the ‘objective-juridical’-has been much discussed. Is the former an addition, a supplement, a correlative, or a transformation of the latter? ‘Probably a majority of recent scholars hold that the conception of freedom from sin through a new moral life is primary in the thought of the Apostle’;† [Note: g. Stevens, Christian Doctrine of Salvation, 70; W. Beyschlag, NT Theol., Eng. tr., 1895, ii. 198-201; C. v. Weizsäcker, Das apostolische Zeitalter, Freiburg i. B., 1890, p. 139 (Eng. tr., London, 1895, ii. 104 f.).] others reverse this relation.‡ [Note: g. O. Pfleiderer, Das Urchristentum, Berlin, 1887, p. 229; E. Ménégoz, Le Péché et la Rédemption d’après St. Paul, 1882, ii. 251 ff.] Denney strongly maintains that Christ’s substitutionary death is primary, and that the ethico-mystical views are directly deduced from it; the latter indicate the inevitable result of a true appropriating faith in the substitutionary death of Christ, the sole object of which was to atone for sin; gratitude to Christ for this redemptive act of love Being sufficient to evoke the whole experience of salvation on its ethical side. St. Paul’s thought has only one focus-Christ’s ‘finished work,’ His ‘atonement outside of us,’* [Note: Death of Christ, 179-192.] A. B. Bruce fears that the practical schism between these two experiences of faith in the objective work of Christ and personal union in His death and resurrection is too real for such, a view; he thinks that the doctrine of an objective righteousness wrought out by Christ was first elaborated, that this ‘met the spiritual need of the conversion crisis,’ and that ‘the doctrine of subjective righteousness came in due season to solve problems arising out of Christian experience’; conseque


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Atonement'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/a/atonement.html. 1906-1918.

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