Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, April 18th, 2024
the Third Week after Easter
Tired of seeing ads while studying? Now you can enjoy an "Ads Free" version of the site for as little as 10¢ a day and support a great cause!
Click here to learn more!

Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Search for…
Prev Entry
Next Entry
Atonement, Day of
Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

(expressed in Hebrews by כָּפִר, kaphar', to cover over sin, hence to forgive; Gr. καταλλαγή, reconciliation, as usually rendered), the satisfaction offered to divine justice for the sins of mankind by the death of Jesus Christ, by virtue of which all penitent believers in Christ are reconciled to God, and freed from the penalties of sin.

I. Scripture Doctrine.

1. The words used to describe Christ's work. The redeeming work of Christ, in its several aspects, is denoted in Scripture by various terms, namely, reconciliation, propitiation, expiation, atonement, redemption, satisfaction, substitution, and salvation. The following summary of the uses and meanings of these terms is taken, with slight modifications, from Angus, Bible Hand-book, § 329.

(a.) Looking into the English N.T., we find "reconciliation" and "reconcile" in several passages, in all of which (except one) the Greek word is some form of ἀλλάσσω , "to produce a change between parties" (when, for example, they have been at variance); in turning to the Sept. we find this word never used in this sense at all, nor have the many passages in the O.T., which speak of "making reconciliation," any verbal reference to these passages in the N.T. The idea is involved in several passages, but it is never expressed by this word, nor by any single word. "To turn away anger," "to restore to favor," "to accept," are the common expressions, generally forms of רָצָה and δεκτός (Isaiah 56:7; Isaiah 60:7; Jeremiah 6:20; Leviticus 19:7). Hence the conclusion, that in the word of the N.T. translated "reconcile" there is reference only to the change or effect produced by some measure of mercy, and not to the nature of that measure itself: it describes merely the change produced in our relation to God; his moral sentiment of displeasure against sin (called his "wrath") is appeased, and the sinner's enmity and misgivings are removed. That there is this double change may be gathered from the following passages: Hebrews 10:26-27; Romans 5:9; Hebrews 9:26; Hebrews 9:28; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Ephesians 2:16; 1 Corinthians 7:11; Colossians 1:20-21.

(b.) In one passage, however (Hebrews 2:17), we have in Greek another word, ἱλάσκομαι , translated also "make reconciliation." Its meaning may be gathered from the passages in the O.T. in which it occurs. It is, in fact, the constant rendering of a word translated in the English version "to make reconciliation" or "to atone for" (Leviticus 6:30; Leviticus 8:15; Ezekiel 45:20; Daniel 9:24, etc.).

(c.) But it would excite surprise if this were the only passage in the N.T. where this phrase is found. It occurs again, in fact, in Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10; but in each of these passages it is translated PROPITIATION, a word which does not occur in the O.T. EXPIATION, again, does not occur in the N.T., and but once in the O.T. (Numbers 35:33, marg.); it is the same word, however, as is translated elsewhere "to make reconciliation" or "to atone for." ATONEMENT itself does not occur in the N.T., except in Romans 5:2, and there it has no connection with the O.T. phrase, but is the same word as is translated "reconciliation" in the first sense above indicated; a change, that is, of state between parties previously at variance.

(d.) Thus far, therefore, the result is clear. Reconciliation and atonement are, in all the N.T., except Hebrews 2:17, translations of the same word, and mean the state of friendship and acceptance into which the Gospel introduces us. "Reconciliation" in the sense in which it is used in Hebrews 2:17, and "atonement" in the uniform sense of the Old Testament, "propitiation" in the New Testament, and "expiation" in the Old, are all different renderings of one and the same Hebrew and Greek words כָּפִר, kaphar (in the Piel form כַּפֵּר ) and ἐξιλάσκομαι, in some of their forms. These words, which may be regarded as one, have two senses, each involving the other. They mean to appease, pacify, or propitiate (Genesis 33:20; Proverbs 16:14; Ezekiel 16:63); and also to clear from guilt (1 Samuel 3:14; Psalms 65:3; Proverbs 16:6; Isaiah 6:7, etc.). In propitiation, we have prominence given to the first idea; in expiation, to the second; in atonement, we have a distinct reference to both.

(e.) The thing which atones, propitiates, or expiates is called in Greek ὶλασμός, ἐξιλασμός, and λύτρον, all translations of two derivatives of the Hebrew word כָּפִר ( כְּפֻרַים and כֹּפֶר ), i.e. price or covering.

(f.) The use of λύτρον for כֹּפֶר introduces another form of expression, "redemption." This word, as a noun, always represents in the N.T. λύτρωσις or ἀπολύτρωσις . Both are descriptive of the act of procuring the liberation of another by paying some λύτρον or ἄποινα, i.e. "ransom" or "forfeit," and hence always in the N.T. of the state of being ransomed in this way. These words mean (1) to buy back, by paying the price, what has been sold (Leviticus 25:25), and (2) to redeem what has been devoted by substituting something else in its place (Leviticus 27:27; Exodus 13:13; Psalms 72:14; Psalms 130:8; Isaiah 63:9). The price paid is called λύτρον

(Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45), ἀντίλυτρον (1 Timothy 2:6), the Hebrew terms being גְּאֻלָּה and פַּדְיוֹן, answering precisely to

λύτρον , and כֹּפֶר, which again answers to ἱλασμός . In 1 Timothy 2:6, this ransom is said to be Christ himself. "Redemption," therefore, is generally a state of deliverance by means of ransom. Hence it is used to indicate deliverance from punishment or guilt (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14); sanctification, which is deliverance from the dominion of sin (1 Peter 1:18); the resurrection, which is the actual deliverance of the body from the grave, the consequence of sin (Romans 8:23); completed salvation, which is actual deliverance from all evil (Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 4:30; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Titus 2:14). Once it is used without reference to sin (Hebrews). 11:35), and perhaps in Luke 21:28.

(g.) Another word, translated "redemption" (ἀγοράζω, Galatians 3:13; Galatians 4:5; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 14:3-4), means, as it is everywhere else translated, to buy, referring to a purchase made in the market. What is paid in this case is called τηεή (price), and this price is said to he Christ (Galatians 3:13), or his blood (Romans 5:9). In Acts 20:28, the word rendered "purchase" (περιποιεῖσθαι ) has no reference to redemption or to price, but means simply "acquired for himself:" the following words, however, indicate that the sense is not materially different from purchasing, as that term is used elsewhere.

(h.) The word "satisfaction" is not found in the N.T., but it occurs twice in the Old (Numbers 35:31-32). It is there a translation of כֹּפֶר or λύτρον, "that which expiates" or "ransoms." The use of these terms, in reference to the N.T. doctrine, implies that what was done and paid in the death of our Lord satisfied the claims of justice, and answered all the moral purposes which God deemed necessary, under a system of holy law.. (i.) The word "substitution" is not to be found in either Testament, but the idea is frequently expressed in both: "it shall be accepted FOR him" (Leviticus 1:4; Leviticus 7:18) is the O.T. phrase, and the New corresponds. There we find in frequent use ὑπέρ and ἀντί, the former meaning "on behalf of," "for," and "instead," and the latter meaning undoubtedly "instead of." Much stress ought not to be laid upon the first of these terms, as it is frequently used where it may mean "for the advantage of" (Romans 8:26; Romans 8:31; 2 Corinthians 1:2); yet in John 15:13, and 1 John 3:16, it seems to mean "instead of;" and this is certainly the meaning of ἀντί (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; see Matthew 2:22, "in the room of"). Apart, however, from particular prepositions, three sets of phrases clearly teach this doctrine. (1) Christ was made a curse for us (Galatians 3:13); so a similar phrase (2 Corinthians 5:21). (2)He gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins (1 Corinthians 15; Ephesians 5:2; Galatians 1:4; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 Timothy 2:14; Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 5:1; Hebrews 5:3; Hebrews 10:12; Romans 5:6-8; 1 Corinthians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Corinthians 11:24; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 Peter 4:1). (3) Christ gave his life for our life, or we live by his death (Galatians 2:20; Romans 14:15; 2 Corinthians 5:15. Compare Romans 16:4; Isaiah 53:45). The idea of substitution is in all these passages, and the phrase, though not scriptural, is a convenient summary of them all.

(j.) "Salvation" is everywhere in the N.T. the representative of σωτηρία or σωτήριον; σωτηρία is always translated "salvation" except in three passages (Acts 7:25; Acts 27:34, and Hebrews 11:7, where it refers to temporal deliverance), and the idea included in the term is whatever blessings redemption includes, but without any reference to λύτρον , or anything else as the ground of them. It includes present deliverance (Luke 19:9) or future (Philippians 1:19; Romans 13:11). "Salvation," therefore, is the state into which the Gospel introduces all who believe, and without reference to the means used. On turning to the Sept., however, we find that the idea of propitiation is involved even here; σωτήριον is very frequently the translation of שֶׁלֶם (זֶבֻח ), peace-offering, θυσία σωτηρίου (Leviticus 3:1-3; Leviticus 4:10; Leviticus 7:20; Leviticus 11:4; Judges 20:26; Judges 21:4). שֶׁלֶם is the sacrifice or retribution restoring peace, and thus the meaning of σωτήριον touches upon the meaning of propitiation. "From this comparison, therefore, of the N.T.. the Sept., and the Hebrew, we gather the following conclusions: Propitiation, giving prominence to the secondary meaning of כָּפִר, kaphar, and the primary meaning of ἐξιλάσκομαι, is an act prompting to the exercise of mercy, and providing for its exercise in a way consistent with justice; Expiation, giving prominence to the primary meaning of כָּפִר and the secondary meaning of ἐξιλάσκομαι, is an act which provides for the removal of sin, and cancels the obligation to punishment; Atonement, giving prominence to both, and meaning expiation and propitiation combined. Christ's atonement is said to be by substitution, for he suffered in our stead, and he bears our sin; and it is by satisfaction, for the broken law is vindicated, all the purposes of punishment are answered with honor to the Lawgiver, and eventual holiness to the Christian. Its result is reconciliation (καταλλαγή ); the moral sentiment of justice in God is reconciled to the sinner, and provision is made for the removal of our enmity; and it is redemption, or actual deliverance for a price from sin in its guilt and dominion, from all misery and from death. Salvation is also actual deliverance, but without a discinct reference to a price paid. Atonement, therefore, is something offered to God; redemption or salvation is something bestowed upon man; atonement is the ground of redemption, and redemption is the result of atonement (Isaiah 53:4-10; Isaiah 53:12). The design of the first is to satisfy God's justice, the design of the second to make man blessed; the first was finished upon the cross, the second is in daily operation, and will not be completed in the case of the whole church till the consummation of all things (Daniel 9:24; Ephesians 4:30)."

2. The Scripture doctrine of the vicarious sacrifice of Christ is taught in the passages above cited, and indeed seems to underlie the whole "gospel" of salvation contained in the teaching of Christ and his apostles. It may be stated further

(1) that the sacrifices of the O.T. were (at least many of them) expiatory [see this shown under EXPIATION (See EXPIATION) ], and the terms used by Christ and his apostles (ransom, sacrifice, offering, etc.) were necessarily understood by their hearers in the sense which they had been accustomed for ages to attach to them.

(2) If this be so, then nothing could "be more misleading, and even absurd, than to employ those terms which, both among Jews and .Gentiles, were in use to express the various processes and means of atonement and piacular propitiation, if the apostles and Christ himself did not intend to represent his death strictly as an expiation for sin; misleading, because such would be the natural and necessary inference from the terms themselves, which had acquired this as their established meaning; and absurd, because if, as Socinians say, they used them metaphorically, there was not even an ideal resemblance between the figures and that which it was intended to illustrate. So totally irrelevant, indeed, will those terms appear to any notion entertained of the death of Christ which excludes its expiatory character, that to assume that our Lord and his apostles used them as metaphors is profanely to assume them to be such writers as would not in any other case be tolerated; writers wholly unacquainted with the commonest rules of language, and, therefore, wholly unfit to be teachers of others, and that not only in religion, but in things of inferior importance" (Watson, Dict. s.v. Expiation).

Immediately upon the first public manifestation of Christ, John the Baptist declares, when he sees Jesus coming to him, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29); where it is obvious that, when John called our Lord "the Lamb of God," he spoke of him under a sacrificial character, and of the effect of that sacrifice as an atonement for the sins of mankind. This was said of our Lord even before he entered on his public office; but if any doubt should exist respecting the meaning of the Baptist's expression, it is removed by other passages, in which a similar allusion is adopted, and in which it is specifically applied to the death of Christ as an atonement for sin. In the Acts (Acts 8:32) the following words of Isaiah (Isaiah 53:7) are by Philip the Evangelist distinctly applied to Christ and to his death: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: in his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth." This particular part of the prophecy being applied to our Lord's death, the whole must relate to the same subject, for it is undoubtedly one entire prophecy; and the other expressions in it are still stronger: "He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed: the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." In the First Epistle of Peter is also a strong and very apposite text, in which the application of the term "lamb" to our Lord, and the sense in which it is applied, can admit of no doubt:

"Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1:18-19). It is therefore evident that the prophet Isaiah, seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus; that John the Baptist, at the commencement of Christ's ministry; and that Peter, his companion and apostle, subsequent to the transaction, speak of Christ's death as an atonement for sin under the figure of a lamb sacrificed. The passages that follow plainly and distinctly declare the atoning efficacy of Christ's death: "Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation" (Hebrews 9:26; Hebrews 9:28). "This man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sin, forever sat down on the right hand of God; for by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified" (Hebrews 10:12). It is observable that nothing similar is said of the death of any other person, and that no such efficacy is imputed to any other martyrdom. "While we were yet sinners Christ died for us; much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him; for 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 5:8-10). The words "reconciled to God by the death of his Son" show that his death had an efficacy in our reconciliation; but reconciliation is only preparatory to salvation. "He has reconciled us to his Father in his cross, and in the body of his flesh through death" (Colossians 1:20; Colossians 1:22). What is said of reconciliation in these texts is in some others spoken of sanctification, which is also preparatory to salvation. " We are sanctified" how? "by the offering of the body of Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:10). In the same epistle (Hebrews 10:29), the blood of Jesus is called "the blood of the covenant by which we are sanctified." In these and many other passages that occur in different parts of the New Testament, it is therefore asserted that the death of Christ was efficacious in the procuring of human salvation. Such expressions are used concerning no other person, and the death of no other person; and it is therefore evident that Christ's death included something more than a confirmation of his preaching; something more than a pattern of a holy and patient martyrdom; something more than a necessary antecedent to his resurrection, by which he gave a grand and clear proof of our resurrection from the dead. Christ's death was all these, but it was much more. It was an atonenment for the sins of mankind, and in this way only it became the accomplishment of our eternal redemption. The teaching of the New Testament, and the agreement of the statements of Christ with those of his apostles on this subject, are thus set forth (without regard to theological distinctions) by Dr. Thomson, bishop of Gloucester: "God sent his Son into the world to redeem lost and ruined man from sin and death, and the Son willingly took upon him the form of a servant for this purpose; and thus the Father and the Son manifested their love for us. God the Father laid upon his Son the weight of the sins of the whole world, so that he bare in his own body the wrath which men must else have borne, because there was no other way of escape for them; and thus the atonement was a manifestation of divine justice. The effect of the atonement thus wrought is that man is placed in a new position, freed from the dominion of sin, and able to follow holiness, and thus the doctrine of the atonement ought to work in all the hearers a sense of love, of obedience, and of self-sacrifice. In shorter words, the sacrifice of the death of Christ is a proof of divine love and of divine justice, and is for us a document of obedience. Of the four great writers of the New Testament, Peter, Paul, and John set forth every one of these points.

Peter, the witness of the sufferings of Christ,' tells us that we were redeemed with the blood of Jesus, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot;' says that Christ bare our sins in his own body on the tree.' If we have tasted that the Lord is gracious,' we must not rest satisfied with a contemplation of our redeemed state, but must live a life worthy of it. No one can well doubt, who reads the two epistles, that the love of God and Christ, and the justice of God, and the duties thereby laid on us, all have their value in them; but the love is less dwelt on than the justice, while the most prominent idea of all is the moral and practical working of the cross of Christ upon the lives of men. With St. John, again, all three points find place: that Jesus willingly laid down his life for us, and is an advocate with the Father; that He is also the propitiation, the suffering sacrifice for our sins; and that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin, for that whoever is born of God doth not commit sin: all are put forward. The death of Christ is both justice and love both a propitiation and an act of loving self-surrender; but the moral effect upon us is more prominent even than these. In the epistles of Paul the three elements are all present: in such expressions as a ransom, a propitiation who was made sin-for us,' the wrath of God against sin, and the mode in which it was turned away, are presented to us. Yet not wrath alone: The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them and rose again.' Love in him begets love in us; and, in our reconciled state, the holiness which we could not practice before becomes easy. Now in which of these points is there the semblance of contradiction between the apostles and their Master? In none of them. In the gospels, as in the epistles, Jesus is held up as the sacrifice and victim, quaffing a cup from which his human nature shrank, feeling in him a sense of desolation such as we fail utterly to comprehend on a theory of human-motives. Yet no one takes from him his precious redeeming life; he lays it down of-himself out of his great love for men; but men are to deny themselves, and take up their cross, and tread in his steps. They are his friends only if they keep his commands and follow his footsteps" (Aids to Faith, p. 337. See also Starr and Flatt, Biblical Theology, § 65-70).

II. History of the Doctrine.

1. The Fathers. In the early ages of the church the atoning work of Christ was spoken of generally in the words of Scripture. The value of the sufferings and death of Christ, in the work of redemption, was from the beginning both held in Christian faith, and also plainly set forth, but the doctrine was not scientifically developed by the primitive fathers. But it is one thing to admit that the atonement was not scientifically apprehended, and quite another thing to assert that it was not really held at all in the sense of vicarious sacrifice. The relation between the death of Christ and the remission of sins was not a matter of much dispute in that early period. The person of Christ was the great topic of metaphysico-theological inquiry, and it was not until after this was settled by the general prevalence of the Nicene Creed that anthropological and soteriological questions come up into decided prominence. Baur (in whose Versohnungslehre this subject is treated with ample learning, though often with dogmatic assertion of conclusions arrived at hastily and without just ground) admits that in the writings of the apostolical fathers there is abundant recognition of the sacrificial and redemptive death of Christ. Thus Barnabas: "The Lord condescended to deliver his body to death, that, by remission of our sins, we might be sanctified, and this is effected by the shedding of his blood" (c. v). So also Clement quotes Isaiah 53 and Psalms 22:7; Psalms 22:9, adding,

"His blood was shed for our salvation; by the will of God he has given his body for our body, his soul for our soul." Similar passages exist in Ignatius and Polycarp, and stronger still in the Epist. ad Diognet. ch. 9. (See citations in Shedd, History of Doctrines, bk. 5, ch. 1; Hagenbach, Hist. of Doctrines, § 68; Thomson, Bampton Lectures, 1853, Lect. 6). In the second century Justin Martyr (A.D. 147) says that "the Father willed that his Christ should take upon himself the curses of all for the whole race of man" (Dial. c. Tryph. 95). "In Justin may be found the idea of satisfaction rendered by Christ through suffering, at least lying at the bottom, if not clearly grasped in the form of conscious thought" (Dial. c. Tryph. c. 30; Neander, Ch. History, 1, 642). The victory of the death of Christ over the power of the devil begins now to play a prominent part in the idea of the atonement. Baur maintains that this was really due to Gnostic ideas taken up into the line of Christian thought; "that as the relation between the Demiurge and Redeemer was, in the Marcionite and Ophitic systems, essentially hostile, so the death of Jesus was a contrivance of the Demiurge, which failed of its purpose and disappointed him." Baur asserts that Irenaeus (A.D. 180) borrowed this idea from Gnosticism, only substituting Satan for the Demiurge. But Dorner shows clearly that Irenseus, with entire knowledge of Gnosticism, repelled all its ideas, and that Baur's charge rests upon a misinterpretation of a passage (adv. Hoer. v. 1, 1) in which, although the Satanic idea is prominent, it is far removed from Gnosticism (Dorner, Person of Christ, 1, 463; see also Shedd, Hist. of Doctrines, 2, 213). Baur's theory that the foundations of the doctrine of vicarious satisfaction were laid in the notion that it was the claims of Satan, and not of God, that were satisfied, falls to the ground; for "if this theory can be found in any of the fathers, it is in Irenaeus" (Shedd, 1. c.). Nevertheless, it is true (though not in the Gnostic spirit) that Irenaeus represents the sufferings of Christ as made necessary by the hold of Satan on man, and in order to a rightful deliverance from that bondage. Tertullian (A.D. 200) uses the word satisfactio, but not with reference to the vicarious sufferings of Christ, yet in several of his writings he assumes the efficacious work of Christ's sufferings for salvation. In the Alexandrian fathers we find, as might be expected, the Gnostic influence more obvious, and the idea of ransom paid to the devil comes out fully in Origen (A.D. 230). Yet it is going quite too far to say that Origen does not recognize the vicarious suffering of Christ; so (Hom. 24 on Numbers) he says that "the entrance of sin into the world made a propitiation necessary, and there can be no propitiation without a sacrificial offering." Dr. Shedd finds the general doctrine of the Alexandrian school inconsistent with vicarious atonement, and interprets the special passages which imply it accordingly; but in this he differs from Thomasius (Origenes, Nurnb. 1837) and Thomson (Bampton Lectures). Origen doubtless held the vicarious atonement, though it was mixed up with speculations as to the value of the blood of the martyrs, and debased by his fanciful views of the relation of Christ's work to the devil. This was carried to a greater extent by later fathers, e.g. Gregory of Nyssa (A.D. 370), who says in substance that the devil was cheated in the transaction by a just retaliation for his deception of men: "Men have come under the dominion of the devil by sin. Jesus offered himself to the devil as the ransom for which he should release all others. The crafty devil assented, because he cared more for the one Jesus, who was so much superior to him, than for all the rest. But, notwithstanding his craft, he was deceived, since he could not retain Jesus in his power. It was, as it were, a deception on the part of God (ἀπάτη τίς ἐστι τρόπον τινά ), that Jesus veiled his divine nature, which the devil would have feared, by means of his humanity, and thus deceived the devil by the appearance of flesh" (Orat. Catech. 22-26). Athanasius (A.D. 370), on the other hand, not only maintained the expiation of Christ, but rejected the fanciful Satan theory (De Incarn. Erbi, 6, et al.). Cyril of Jerusalem (A.D. 350) (Catech. 12, § 33) enters more deeply into this doctrine, developing a theory to show why it was necessary that Jesus should die for man. Similar views were expressed by Eusebius of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzen, Cyril of Alexandria, and Chrysostom (see Giescler, Dogmengeschichte, p. 383). Several of these fathers also maintain that Christ, by his death, did more than would have been necessary for the redemption of men. They undertook to show that Christ alone was able to achieve redemption, and discussed the qualities which were necessary for his redemptive character. These discussions are especially met with in the writings against the Arians and the Nestorians. Augustine (A.D. 398) was occupied more, in all his controversies, with anthropology than with soteriology, but the vicarious atonement is clearly taught or implied in his De Peccat. Meritis, 1, 56, and in other places; but he called those dolts (stuli) who maintained that God could provide no other means of redemption (De Agone Christ. c. 10). Gregory the Great (A.D. 590) taught the doctrine with great clearness, and approached the scientific precision of a later age (Moralia, 17, 46). Little is to be added to these statements up to the time of Anselm. Enough has been said to show that, although the earlier view may have been incomplete and mingled with error, it is wrong to assert, as Baur and his English followers (Jowett, Garden, etc.) do, that the "doctrine of substitution is not in the fathers, and lay dormant till the voice of Anselm woke it; or that Anselm was the inventor of the doctrine." (Comp. Brit. and For Ex. Review, Jani. 1861, p. 48.)

2. The Scholastic Period. Nevertheless, Anselm (t 1109) undoubtedly gave the doctrine a more scientific form thy giving the central position to the idea of satisfaction to the divine justice (Cur Dens homo? transl. in Bibliotheca Sacra, vols. 11, 12). Nicholas of Methone (11th or 12th century?), in the Greek Church, developed the necessity of vicarious satisfaction from the nature of God and his relations to man, but it is not certain that he had not seen Anselm's writings. Anselm's view is, in substance, as follows: " The infinite guilt which man had contracted by the dishonor of his sin against the infinitely great God could be atoned for by no mere creature; only the God-man Christ Jesus could render to God the infinite satisfaction required. God only can satisfy himself. The human nature of Christ enables him to incur, the infinity of his divine nature to pay this debt. But it was incumbent upon Christ as a man to order his life according to the law of God; the obedience of his life, therefore, was not able to render satisfaction for our guilt. But, although he was under obligation to live in obedience to the law, as the Holy One he was under no obligation to die. Seeing, then, that he nevertheless voluntarily surrendered his infinitely precious life to the honor of God, a recompense from God became his due, and his recompense consists in the forgiveness of the sins of his brethren" (Chambers, Encycl. s.v.; Neander, Hist. of Dogmas, Bohn's ed. 2:517). Anselm rejects entirely the claims of Satan, and places the necessity of atonement entirely in the justice of God. His theory is defective with regard to the appropriation of the merits of Christ by the believer; but, on the whole, it is substantially that in which the Christian Church has rested from that time forward. His doctrine was opposed by Abelard, who treated the atonement in its relation to the love of God, and not to his justice, giving it moral rather than legal significance. Peter Lombard seems confusedly to blend Abelard's views and Anselm's. Thomas Aquinas developed Anselm's theory, and brought out also the superabundant merit of his death, while he does not clearly affirm the absolute necessity of the death of Christ (Hagenbach, Hist. of Doctrines, § 181). (See AQUINAS).

Bernard of Clairvaux, in opposition to Abelard, brought up again the idea of the claims of Satan. Duns Scotus, in opposition to Anselm, denied the necessity of Christ's death, and denied also that the satisfaction rendered was an equivalent for the claims of justice, holding that God accepted Christ's sacrifice as sufficient. (See ACCEPTILATIO). On the whole, the scholastic period left two streams of thought closely allied, yet with an element of difference afterward fully developed, viz. the Anselmic, of the satisfaction of divine justice, absolutely considered; and that of Aquinas, that this satisfaction was relative, and also superabundant. The Romish doctrine of supererogation and indulgence doubtless grew out of this.

3. From the Reformation All the great confessions Greek, Roman, Lutheran, Reformed, and Methodist agree in placing the salvation of the sinner in the mediatorial work of Christ. But there are various modes of apprehending the doctrine in this period (see Winer, Comparat. Darstellung, ch. 7). The Council of Trent confounds justification with sanctification, and hence denies that the satisfaction of Christ is the sole ground of the remission of sin (Canones, De Justificatione, 7, 8). The Romanist writers generally adopt the "acceptilation" theory of Scotus rather than that of Anselm, and hold that the death of Christ made satisfaction only for sins before baptism, while as to sins after baptism only the eternal punishment due to them is remitted; so that, for the temporal punishment due to them, satisfaction is still required by penance and purgatory. Luther does not treat of satisfaction in any special treatise; he was occupied rather with the appropriation of salvation by faith alone, though he held fast the doctrine of expiation through Christ. So, in Melancthon's Loci, and in the Augsburg Confession (A.D. 1530), the atoning work of Christ is fully stated, but under the head of justifying faith. "Men are justified gratuitously for Christ's sake through faith when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are remitted on account of Christ, who made satisfaction for our transgressions by his death. This faith God imputes to us as righteousness" (Augsburg Confession, art. 4). The distinction between the active and passive obedience of Christ came later; its first clear statement in the Lutheran Church is in the Formula of Concord (1576): "That righteousness which is imputed to the believer simply by the grace of God is the obedience, the suffering, and the resurrection of Christ, by which he has satisfied the claims of the law and atoned for our sins. For as Christ is not merely man, but God and man in one person, he was, as Lord of the law, no more subject to it than he was subject to suffering death; hence not only his obedience to God the Father, as exhibited in his sufferings and death, but also by his righteous fulfillment of the law on our behalf, is imputed to us, and God acquits us of our sins, and regards us as just in view of his complete obedience in what he did and suffered, in life and in death" (Francke, Lib. Symb. 685). Nor did this distinction appear early among the Calvinists any more than among the Lutherans. Calvin joins them together (Institutes, bk. 2, § 16, 5). None of the reformed confessions distinguish between the active and passive obedience before the Formula Consensus Helvetica (1675; comp. Guericke, Symbolik, § 47).

The Socinians deny the vicarious atonement entirely. They assert that satisfaction and forgiveness are incompatible ideas; that the work of atonement is subjective, i.e. the repentance and moral renovation of the sinner; that God needs no reconciliation with man. Christ suffered, not to satisfy the divine justice, but as a martyr to his truth and an example to his followers. Socinus did, however, admit that the death of Christ affords a pledge of divine forgiveness, and of man's resurrection as following Christ's (see Winer, Comp. Darstellung, 7, 1; and comp. Hagenbach, History of Doctrines, § 268; Shedd, Hist. of Doctrines, bk. 5).

In opposition to Socinus, Grotius wrote his Defensio fidei Cathol. de Satisfactione (1617), which forms an epoch in the history of the doctrine. He deduced the necessity of satisfaction from the administrative or rectoral justice of God, and not from his retributive justice. He taught that the prerogative of punishing is to be ascribed to God, not as an injured party, but as moral governor of the world. So the prerogative of substitution, in place of punishment, belongs to God as moral governor. If, by any other means than punishment, he can vindicate the claims of justice, he is at liberty, as moral governor, to use those means. The atonement does thus satisfy justice; and through Christ's voluntary offering, the sinner can be pardoned and the law vindicated. The defect of this theory lies in its not referring the work of Christ sufficiently to the nature of God, contemplating it rather in its moral aspects as an exhibition of the evil of sin. The Dutch Arminian divines bring out more prominently the idea of sacrifice in the death of Christ. The Methodist theology asserts the doctrine of satisfaction strongly, e.g. Watson: Satisfaction [by the death of Christ] by Christ is not to be regarded as a merely fit and wise expedient of government (to which Grotius leans too much), for this may imply that it was one of many other possible expedients, though the best; whereas we have seen that it is everywhere in Scripture represented as necessary to human salvation, and that it is to be concluded that no alternative existed but that of exchanging a righteous government for one careless and relaxed, to the dishonor of the divine attributes, and the sanctioning of moral disorder, or the upholding of such government by the personal and extreme punishment of every offender, or else the acceptance of the vicarious death of an infinitely dignified and glorious being, through whom pardon should be offered, and in whose hands a process for the moral restoration of the lapsed should be placed. The humiliation, sufferings, and death of such a being did most obviously demonstrate the righteous character and administration of God; and if the greatest means we can conceive was employed for this end, then we may safely conclude that the righteousness of God in the forgiveness of sin could not have been demonstrated by inferior means; and as God cannot cease to be a righteous governor, man in that case could have had no hope" (Watson, Theol. Institutes, vol. 2, pt. 2, ch. 20). The Arminian theology did nevertheless maintain that God is free, not necessitated as moral governor, and that the satisfaction of Christ has reference to the general justice of God, and not to his distributive justice. The Methodist theology also brings out prominently the love of God, which is organic and eternal in him his essential nature as the source of redemption, and holds that the free manifestation of the divine love is under no law of necessity. Even Ebrard, one of the most eminent modern writers of the Reformed Church, sets this forth as a great service rendered to theology by the Arminians (Ebrard, Lehre der stellvero tretenden Genugthuung, Konigsb. 1857, p. 25; compare also Warren, in Methodist Quarterly, July, 1866, 390 sq.; and, on the other side, Shedd, History of Doctrines, bk. 5, ch. 5; and his Discourses and Essays, 294). Hill (Calvinist), in his Lectures on Divinity (bk. 4, ch. 3), appears to adopt the Grotian theory.

Extent of the Atonement. One of the most important questions in the modern Church with regard to the atonement is that of its extent, viz. whether the benefits of Christ's death were intended by God to extend to the whole human race, or only to a part. The former view is called universal or general atonement; the latter, particular, or limited. What is called the strict school of Calvinists holds the latter doctrine, as stated in the Westminster Confession. "As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ; are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only" (ch. 3, § 6; comp. also ch. 8, §§ 5 and 8). The so-called moderate (or modern) Calvinists, the Arminians, the Church of England, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, adopt the doctrine of general or universal atonement. (See CALVINISM).

The advocates of a limited atonement maintain that the atonement cannot properly be considered apart from its actual application, or from the intention of the author in regard to its application; that in strictness of speech, the death of Christ is not an atonement to any until it be applied; that the sufferings of the Lamb of God are therefore truly vicarious, or, in other words, that Christ, in suffering, became a real substitute for his people, was charged with their sins, and bore the punishment of them, and thus has made a full and complete satisfaction to divine justice in behalf of all who shall ever believe on him; that this atonement will eventually be applied to all for whom in the divine intention it was made, or to all to whom God in his sovereignty has been pleased to decree its application. But they believe that although the atonement is to be properly considered as exactly commensurate with its intended application, yet that the Lord Jesus Christ did offer a sacrifice sufficient in its intrinsic value to expiate the sins of the whole world, and that, if it had been the pleasure of God to apply it to every individual, the whole human race would have been saved by its immeasurable worth. They hold, therefore, that, on the ground of the infinite value of the atonement, the offer of salvation can be consistently and sincerely made to all who hear the Gospel, assuring them that if they will believe they shall be saved; whereas, if they willfully reject the overtures of mercy, they will increase their guilt and aggravate their damnation. At the same time, as they believe, the Scriptures plainly teach that the will and disposition to comply with this condition depends upon the sovereign gift of God, and that the actual compliance is secured to those only for whom, in the divine counsels, the atonement was specifically intended. The doctrine, on the other hand, that Christ died for all men, so as to make salvation attainable by all men, is maintained, first and chiefly, on scriptural ground, viz. that, according to the whole tenor of Scripture, the atonenment of Christ was made for all men. The advocates of this view adduce,

(1.) Passages which expressly declare the doctrine.

[a] Those which say that Christ died "for all men," and speak of his death as an atonement for the sins of the whole world.

[b] Those which attribute an equal extent to the death of Christ as to the effects of the fall.

(2.) Passages which necessarily imply the doctrine, viz. [a] Those which declare that Christ died not only for those that are saved, but for those who do or may perish.

[b] Those which make it the duty of men to believe the Gospel, and place them under guilt and the penalty of death for rejecting it.

[c] Those in which men's failure to obtain salvation is placed to the account of their own opposing wills, and made wholly their own fault. (See the argument in full on the Arminian side, in Watson, Theol. Institutes, 2, 284 sq.; Storr and Flatt, Bibl. Theology, bk. 4, pt. 2; Fletcher, Works, 2, 63 et al.)

The Arminian doctrine is summed up in the declaration that Christ "obtained (impetravit) for all men by his death reconciliation and the forgiveness of sins, but upon this condition, that none actually possess and enjoy this forgiveness of sins except believers" (Acta Synod. Remonst. pt. ii, p. 280; Nicholls, Arminianism and Calvinism, p. 114 sq.). It has been asserted (e.g. by Amyraut, q.v.) that Calvin himself held to general redemption; and certainly his language in his Comm. in Job 3:15-16, and in 1 Timothy 2:5, seems fairly to assert the doctrine. Comp. Fletcher, Works (N. Y. ed. 2:71); but see also Cunningham, The Reformers (Essay 7). As to the variations of the Calvinistic confessions, see Hagenbach, History of Doctrines, § 249. In the French Reformed Church, the divines of Saumur, Camero, Amyraldus, and Placaeus maintained universal grace (see the articles on these names). The English divines who attended the Synod of Dort (Hall, Hales, Davenant) all advocated general atonement, in which they were followed by Baxter (Universal Redemption; Methodus Theologias; Orme, Life of Baxter, 2, 64). The most able advocate of universal grace in the 17th century was John Goodwin, Redemption Redeemed, 1650 (see Jackson, Life of Goodwin, 1828).

On the other hand, Owen, the so-called strict Calvinists of England, and the Old-School Presbyterian Church in America, adhere to the Westminster Confession, interpreting it as maintaining limited atonement. Their doctrine on the whole subject in substance is, that the atonement was made and intended only for the elect; and that its necessity with respect to them arose out of the eternal justice of God, which required that every individual should receive his due desert; and, consequently, that the sufferings of Christ were the endurance of punishment equivalent in amount of suffering, if not identical in nature (as Owen maintains) with that to which the elect were exposed; and, moreover, that the Meritorious obedience of Christ in fulfilling the law imputes a righteousness to those for whom the atonement secures salvation, which gives them a claim to the reward of righteousness in everlasting life. The differences of view in the two divisions of the Presbyterian Church in America are thus stated by Dr. Duffield: "Old- School Presbyterians regard the satisfaction rendered to the justice of God by the obedience and death of Christ as explicable upon principles of justice recognized among men in strict judiciary procedures. While they concede that there is grace on the part of God in its application to the believer, inasmuch as he has provided in Christ a substitute for him, they nevertheless insist that he is pardoned and justified of God as judge, and as matter of right and strict justice in the eye of the law, inasmuch as his claims against him have all been met and satisfied by his surety. The obligations in the bond having been discharged by. his security, the judge, according to this view, is bound to give sentence of release and acquittal to the original failing party, the grace shown being in the acceptance of the substitute. Their ideas of the nature of the divine justice, exercised in the pardon and justification of the sinner because of the righteousness of Christ, are all taken from the transactions of a court of law. New-School Presbyterians, equally with the Old, concede the grace of God in the substitution of Christ, the whole work of his redemption to be the development of the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Jesus Christ;' but they prefer to regard and speak of the atonement of Christ, his obedience and death, by which he satisfied the justice of God for our sins, as the great expedient and governmental procedure adopted by the great God of heaven and of earth in his character of chief executive, the governor of the universe, in order to magnify his law and make it honorable, rather than as a juridical plea to obtain a sentence in court for discharging an accused party on trial" (Bibliotheca Sacra, 20, 618).

The doctrine of Payne, Wardlaw, Pye Smith, and other so-called moderate Calvinists in England, and of many in America, is in substance that the atonement consists in "that satisfaction for sin which was rendered to God as moral governor of the world by the obedience unto death of his son Jesus Christ. This satisfaction preserves the authority of the moral government of God, and yet enables him to forgive sinners. That this forgiveness could not be given by God without atonement constitutes its necessity. The whole contents of Christ's earthly existence, embracing both his active and passive obedience-a distinction which is unsupported by the Word of God-must be regarded as contributing to the atonement which he made. As to the extent' of the atonement, there is a broad distinction to be made between the sufficiency of the atonement and its efficiency. It may be true that Jehovah did not intend to exercise that influence of the Holy Spirit upon all which is necessary to secure the salvation of any one; but as the atonement was to become the basis of moral government, it was necessary that it should be one of infinite worth, and so in itself adequate to the salvation of all." In New England the younger Edwards ( 1801) modified the Calvinistic doctrine of the atonement, representing it, as the Arminians do, as a satisfaction to the general justice, and not to the distributive justice of God. Among American Calvinistic divines Dr. E. D. Griffin holds a very high place. His "Humble Attempt to reconcile the Differences of Christians" was republished by Dr. E. A. Park in 1859. in a volume of essays on the atonement by eminent New England divines. A summary of it is given in the Bibliotheca Sacra for Jan. 1858, and is noticed in the Methodist Quarterly, April, 1858, p. 311. "Dr. Griffin held that the atonement was not a literal suffering of the penalty, nor a literal satisfaction of the distributive justice of God, nor a literal removal of our desert of eternal death, nor a literal surplusage of Christ's meritorious personal obedience becoming our imputed obedience. On the other hand, the atonement was a divine method by which the literal suffering of the penalty might be dispensed with, by which government could be sustained and honored without inflicting distributive justice, by which the acceptors of the work might be saved, without the removal of their intrinsic desert of hell; and all this without imputing Christ's personal obedience as our personal obedience, but by Christ obtaini

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Atonement'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​a/atonement.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile