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Morrish Bible Dictionary

Atonement

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The word 'atonement' occurs but once in the N.T. and there it should be 'reconciliation,' and the verb in the preceding sentence is so translated: "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 . . . . through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the reconciliation," καταλλαγή Romans 5:10,11 . On the other hand, in Hebrews 2:17 the A.V. has "to make reconciliation for the sins of the people:" here it is propitiation,' ἱλάσκομαι. If the word atonement is not found in the N.T., atonement in its true meaning is spoken of continually, as 'ransom;' 'bearing our sins in his own body on the tree;' 'Christ our passover is sacrificed for us;' 'Christ . . . . being made a curse for us;' 'He suffered for sins, the just for the unjust;' and, to use the language of faith, 'with his stripes we are healed;' 'He was delivered for our offences;' 'He was manifested to take away our sins.'

In the O.T. we have the word 'atonement' continually, but 'propitiation' not at all; 'expiation' twice in the margin, Numbers 35:33 ; Isaiah 47:11 . But the same word, kaphar, though generally translated by 'make atonement,' is employed for 'purging' and occasionally for 'cleansing,' 'reconciling,' 'purifying.' The word kaphar is literally 'to cover,' with various prepositions with it; the ordinary one is 'up' or 'upon.' Hence in 'atoned for him ' or 'his sin:' he or his sin is covered up: atonement is made for him or for his sin. Atonement was made upon the horns of the altar: the force is 'atonement for.' With the altar of incense atonement was not made upon it, but for it; so for the holy place, and for or about Aaron and his house: the preposition is al.

The same is used with the two goats. The sins were seen on the sinless goat, and expiation was made in respect of those sins. The how is not said here, but it is by the two goats making really one, because the object was to show that the sins were really laid upon it (that is, on Christ), and the sins carried away out of sight, and never to be found. If we can get our ideas, as taught of God as to the truth, into the train of Jewish thought, there is no difficulty in the al. In either case the difficulty arises from the fact that in English for presents the interested person to the mind; on is merely the place where it was done, as on an altar; whereas the al refers to the clearing away by the kaphar what was upon the thing al which the atoning rite was performed. Clearly the goat was not the person interested, nor was it merely done upon it as the place. It was that on which the sins lay, and they must be cleared and done away. The expiation referred to them as thus laid on the goat. As has been said, the how is not stated here, but the all-important fact defined that they were all carried away from Israel and from before God. The needed blood or life was presented to God in the other, which did really put them away; but did much more, and that aspect is attached to them there. This double aspect of the atoning work is of the deepest importance and interest, the presenting of the blood to God on the mercy seat, and the bearing away the sins. The word kaphar, to make atonement, occurs in Exodus 29,30,32 ; Leviticus 1,4-10,12,14-17,19,23 ; Numbers 5,6,8,15,16,25,28,29,31 ; 2 Samuel 21:3 ; 1 Chronicles 6:49 ; 2 Chronicles 29:24 ; Nehemiah 10:33 .

A short notice of some other Hebrew words may help. We have nasa, 'to liftup,' and so to forgive, to lift up the sins away in the mind of the person offended, or to show favour in lifting up the countenance of the favoured person. Psalm 4:6 . We have also kasah, 'to cover,' as in Psalm 32 : 1, where sin is 'covered': sometimes used with al, as in Proverbs 10:12 , "love covereth all sins," forgives: they are out of sight and mind. The person is looked at with love, and not the faults with offence.

But in such words there is not the idea of expiation, the side of the offender is contemplated, and he is looked at in grace, whatever the cause: it may be needed atonement, or simply, as in Proverbs, gracious kindness. We have also salach, 'pardon or forgiveness.' Thus it is used as the effect of kaphar, as in Leviticus 4:20 . But kaphar has always a distinct and important idea connected with it. It views the sin as toward God, and is ransom, when not used literally for sums of money; and kapporeth is the mercy seat. And though it involves forgiveness, purging from sin, it has always God in view, not merely that the sinner is relieved or forgiven: there is expiation and propitiation in it. And this is involved in the idea of purging sin, or making the purging of sin (ἱλάσκεσθαι, ἐξιλάσκεσθαι, ἱλασμὸν ποιεῖν); itis in God's sight as that by which He is offended, and what He rejects and judges.

There was a piaculum, 'an expiatory sacrifice,' something satisfying for the individual involved in guilt, or what was offensive to God, what He could not tolerate from His very nature. This with the heathen, who attached human passions or demon-revenge to their gods, was of course perverted to meet those ideas. They deprecated the vengeance of a probably angry and self-vengeful being. But God has a nature which is offended by sin. It is a holy, not of course a passionate, one; but the majesty of holiness must be maintained. Sin ought not to be treated with indifference, and God's love provides the ransom. It is God's Lamb who undertakes and accomplishes the work. The perfect love of God and His righteousness, the moral order of the universe and of our souls through faith, is maintained by the work of the cross. Through the perfect love not only of God, the giver, but of Him, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, propitiation is made, expiation for sin, itsaspect being toward God, while the effect applies to us in cleansing and justifying, though it goes much farther.

Expiation is more the satisfaction itself which is made, the piaculum, what takes the wrath, and is devoted, made the curse, and so substituted for the offender, so that he goes free. And here the noun kopher comes to let light in on the inquiry. It is translated 'ransom, satisfaction, ' and in 1 Samuel 12:3 a 'bribe.' So in Exodus 21:30 a kopher (translated 'sum of money') is laid upon a man to save his life where his ox had killed his neighbour; but in Numbers 35:31 no kopher was to be taken for the life of a murderer; for (ver. 33) the land cannot be cleansed, kaphar, but by the blood of the man that shed blood as a murderer. This clearly shows what the force of kopher and of kaphar is. A satisfaction is offered suited to the eye and mind of him who is displeased and who judges; and through this there is purgation of the offence, cleansing, forgiveness, and favour, according to him who takes cognisance of the evil.

A word may be added as to the comparison made between the two birds, Leviticus 14:4-7 , and the two goats, Leviticus 16:7-10 . The object of the birds was the cleansing of the leper; it was application to the defiled man, not the kopher, ransom, presented to God. It could not have been done but on the ground of the blood-shedding and satisfaction, but the immediate action was the purifying: hence there was water as well as blood. One bird was slain over running water in an earthen vessel, and the live bird and other objects dipped in it, and the man was then sprinkled, and the living bird let loose far from death, though once identified with it, and was free. The Spirit, in the power of the word, makes the death of Christ available in the power of His resurrection. There was no laying sins on the bird let free, as on the goat: it was identified with the slain one, and then let go. The living water in the earthen vessel is doubtless the power of the Spirit and word in human nature, characterising the form of the truth, though death and the blood must come in, and all nature, its pomp and vanity, be merged in it. The leper is cleansed and then can worship. This is not the atonement itself towards God, though founded on it, as marked by the death of the bird. It is the cleansing of man in death to the flesh, but in the power of resurrection known in Christ who once died to sin.

So also the Red Heifer, Numbers 19:1-22 , was not initself an act of atonement, but of purification. The ground was there laid in the slayingand burning of the heifer. Sin was, so to speak, consumed in it, and the blood was sprinkled seven times before the tabernacle of the congregation. When Christ died sin was, as it were, all consumed for His people by the fire of judgement, and all the value of the blood was before God where He communicated with the people. All that was settled, but man had defiled himself in his journey through the wilderness, and must be cleansed. The witness that sin had been put away long ago by Christ undergoing what was the fruit of sin was brought by the living power of the Holy Spirit and the word, and so he was purified. But the act of purifying is not in itself atonement; for atonement the offering is presented to God. It is a kopher a ransom, a satisfaction, to meet the infinite, absolute perfection of God's nature and character, which indeed is there alone brought out. Thereby atonement is made and the very Day of Atonement is called kippurim. The priest made an atonement in respect of the sins; and it had the double aspect of presenting the blood before God within as meeting what He was, and bearing His people's sins and carrying them away never to be found. We must make the difference of an un-rent veil and repeated sacrifices, and a rent veil and a sacrifice offered once for all. This is taught in the Epistle to the Hebrews.

There is still one case to be noticed, but it was merely a principle confirming the real character of the kaphar, making atonement. In Exodus 30:11-16 it was ordered that when the people were numbered, each, rich or poor, should give half a shekel as a kopher ransom, for his soul or life. This had nothing to do with sin, but with ransom, that there might be no plague — a recognition that they belonged to God all alike, and could have no human boast in numbers, as David afterwards brought the plague on Israel. This was offered to God as a sign of this, and shows what the force of kaphar, making atonement, is.

We have no atonement in connection with the meat offering: we get the perfectness of Christ's person, and all the elements that constituted it so as man, and there tested by the fire of God, which was even to death, the death of the cross, and all a perfect sweet savour, and perfect in presenting it to God a sweet savour, but no kopher, ransom: for that we must have blood-shedding.

The essence then of atonement is, firstly, a work or satisfaction presented to God according to, and perfectly glorifying, His nature and character about sin by sacrifice; and secondly, the bearing our sins; glorifying God even where sin was and in respect of sin (and thus His love is free to go out to all sinners); and giving the believer, him that comes to God by that blood-shedding, the certainty that his sins are all gone, and that God will remember them no more.


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Bibliography Information
Morrish, George. Entry for 'Atonement '. Morrish Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/mbd/a/atonement.html. 1897.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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