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Bible Lexicons

Girdlestone's Synonyms of the Old Testament

Atonement

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Moral actions are regarded in Scripture in two lights: first, they tend to influence the character of the agent; secondly, they affect his relations with his fellow-beings, and also with God. Every breach of law, as a matter of fact, constitutes man an offender, and - if it be known or suspected - causes him to be regarded as such. this principle, with which we are all familiar in human affairs, is true, nay, it may be regarded as a truism, in things pertaining to God; and since the secrets of every heart are laid bare before Him, it follows that every evil motive, every cherished passion, every wrong word, and every evil deed awaken the Divine displeasure, and call for judicial treatment at God's hands. as in man, however, there exist certain attributes which tend to compensate each other's action, so it is in God. Mercy rejoices against judgment, and the feelings of a Father exist in the bosom of Him whom we instinctively and rightly regard as a Moral Governor. God never forgets whereof we are made; He knows our frame, and remembers that we are but dust; and the sins into which we are often hurried through our fallen nature and our inherited constitution, through ignorance, through the force of circumstances, and through the machinations of the Evil One, are weighed by Him in all their aspects, and are seen, if with a magisterial eye, yet through a medium of tender love and pity, which has found its full expression and effect in the atonement.

The Hebrew Word for Atonement

The Hebrew word whereby this doctrine is universally set forth in the O.T. is Caphar (כפר ), the original meaning of which is supposed to be to cover or shelter. A noun formed from it, answering to the modern Arabic Khephr, is sometimes used to signify a village as a place of shelter, e.g. Capernaum (the village of Nahum). Another form of this word, namely, Copher, usually rendered ransom, is transliterated camphire in ; in Genesis 6:14 the verb and noun are used, where God is represented as telling Noah to pitch the ark with in and without with pitch.

Before referring to the passages in which the word has been rendered to make atonement, we may notice those in which other renderings have been adopted in the A. V. The following are the most important: -

Deuteronomy 21:8, 'They shall say, Be merciful unto thy people whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not this innocent blood to their charge; . and the blood shall be forgiven them' - i.e. the charge of having shed innocent blood shall be removed from them. 1 Samuel 3:14, 'I have sworn that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever.' No sacrifice for sins of ignorance could cause God to charge his determination in this case. It is not the eternal destiny of the individuals, but the official position of the family, that is here spoken of. 2 Chronicles 30:18-19, 'Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, The good Lord pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though (he do it) not according to the purification of the sanctuary.' It is added that 'the Lord hearkened to Hezekiah and healed the people.' Here a ceremonial offence was committed, but, through the intercession of Hezekiah, the charge was done away with. Psalms 78:38, 'He being full of compassion forgave their iniquity and destroyed them not.' in this case the charge was done away with, not because of man's innocence, but because of God's compassion. Psalms 79:9, 'Purge away our sins for thy name's sake.' in this, as in other passages, the purgation is not the moral change, but the removal either of guilt or of the punishment which follows from guilt. The ground of appeal lies not in any latent goodness in the offender, but in the nature of God Himself. this is implied in the familiar but too little heeded phrase, ' for thy name's sake,' which occurs so frequently in the O.T. Proverbs 16:6, ' by (or in) mercy and truth iniquity is purged, and by (or in) the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.' this passage teaches that where a man departs from his evil courses and turns into the path of mercy and truth, God is ready to be gracious to him. (Compare Jeremiah 18:23.) Isaiah 6:7, 'Lo, this hath touched thy lips, and thine iniquity is taken away and thy sin purged.' Isaiah 22:14, 'Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die.' The men of whom this was said, and who had deliberately set themselves in opposition to God's revealed truth, would go into another world with their sins unpardoned. Isaiah 27:9,' by this shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged, and this is all the fruit to take away his sin.' (Compare Numbers 35:33; Deuteronomy 32:43.) Isaiah 28:18, 'Your covenant with death shall be disannulled.' this use of the word Caphar is interesting. To be disannulled is to be treated as nonexistent; and this is the way in which God covers sin; to use the vivid language of the Bible, He casts it behind his back. Ezekiel 16:62-63, 'I will establish my covenant with thee, and thou shalt know that I am the Lord; that thou mayest remember and be confounded, and never open thy mouth anymore because of thy shame; when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done.' The pacification of God is literally the covering (by atonement) of the sins written against his people. Pacification, i.e. atonement, proceeds from Him only. See also Psalms 65:3; Isaiah 47:11; Ezekiel 43:20.

The word Caphar, in one or other of its forms, is rendered atone or atonement in about eighty passages, most of which are in the Levitical law. All men and all things human are represented in the law as needing atonement. Even when a priest, or an altar, or a temple was to be consecrated, there must he atonement made first.

and how was atonement wrought? A spotless victim had to be brought before the Lord to take the part of sinful man. Its death, after the sins of the offerer had been laid up on its head, represented the fact that the innocent must suffer for the guilty. Then came the solemn mystery. The priest, God's agent, must take the blood of the victim and scatter it over God's altar. this process set forth the truth that God and the sinner must be brought into contact through means of Him whom priest and altar typified. The symbol was composite, or many-sided, and its various aspects can only be realised and put together when they are regarded in the light of Christ's death up on the cross. It was not his life that made atonement, but his death, i.e. the giving up of his life. One of the ends and objects of his partaking of flesh and blood was that He might taste death. The people of Israel were frequently reminded that their hope lay in the death of a representative. this is brought out very clearly in Leviticus 17:11, 'The life (or soul) of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you up on the altar to make an atonement for your lives; for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for [R. V. (?) 'by reason of the life.'] the life.' When therefore the son of God 'poured out his soul unto death,' shedding his life-blood in behalf of the world, He gave substance and embodiment to the Divine disposition of mercy which was foreshadowed in the Levitical law.

We now have to notice that the word Caphar not only sets forth God's merciful disposition to shelter the sinner, and symbolises the process whereby the shelter should be obtained, but also represents the act of the Priest in making atonement for the sins of the people. An important conclusion may be drawn from this fact, namely, that this divinely-appointed officer, when making atonement, was really representing, not what man does in approaching God, but what 'God manifest in the flesh' does in sheltering man. The people might bring the sacrifices, but it was the priest alone that could take the blood and sprinkle it on the altar or on the mercy-seat, and when he did so he was setting forth in a dim and shadowy figure the merciful provision of God for the pardon of the sinner. Atonement, then, was not something done by man to pacify or gratify God, nor was it something done by a third party with the intention of representing the sinner before God; but it is essentially the product of God's pardoning mercy, exhibited in figure through the agency of the priest's sprinkling of the blood, and finally embodied in the walk of Christ. 'God was, in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them' (2 Corinthians 5:19).

In accordance with the teaching of the O.T. on this subject, we have the doctrine of the Priesthood of Christ, the object of which was 'to make atonement (A. V. 'reconciliation') for the sins of the people,' plainly set forth in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 2:17).

The fact that the priest in certain cases (e.g. Leviticus 10:17) consumed the flesh of the atoning sin-offering may have symbolised the identification between priest and victim which was to be accomplished when Christ offered Himself for our sins.

The application of the fire which was continually burning on the altar, together with incense, to make atonement in certain cases (e.g. Numbers 16:46; Isaiah 6:6-7), seems intended to indicate that the virtue of the atonement once made is continuous, and applicable to all cases.

The word reconciliation has been adopted by our translators instead of atonement, and must be considered as identical with it in Leviticus 6:30; Leviticus 8:15; Leviticus 16:20; Ezekiel 45:15; Ezekiel 45:17; Ezekiel 45:20; Daniel 9:24.

The form Copher has been rendered satisfaction in Numbers 35:31-32; bribe in 1 Samuel 12:3, Amos 5:12; sum of money in Exodus 21:30; ransom in Exodus 30:12, Job 33:24; Job 36:18, Psalms 49:7, Proverbs 6:35; Proverbs 13:8; Proverbs 21:18, and Isaiah 43:3. The usage of the word in these passages, many of which were not ceremonial or symbolical, conveys an idea of costliness as an element in atonement, and thus allies it with redemption. [The free offering of the jewels ' as an atonement for the life' by those who had plundered the Midianites was a special case, and must not be regarded as pointing to an independent means of atonement; moreover, it is to be noticed that the gift was accepted by the priests not as an atonement, but as a memorial (Numbers 31:50; Numbers 31:54).]

The LXX has translated the verb Caphar by ἐξιλάσκομαι, and the noun generally by ἱλασμός, propitiation; occasionally by καθαρισμός, cleansing; and by λύτρον, ransom, in six passages. The prevailing idea set forth both in the LXX and in other translations is that atonement is the doing away with a charge against a person, so that the accused may be received into the Divine favour, and be freed from the consequences of wrong-doing. It should be added that pacification, propitiation, and such words, are by no means adequate for the purpose of conveying the doctrine of atonement; they savour too much of heathenism and superstition, and lead to the supposition that man pacifies God, instead of teaching that God shelters man.

The name of the mercy-seat, Capporeth (ἱλαστήριον), is derived from Caphar. The description of this remarkable object is to be found in Exodus 25:1-40., and its use is indicated in Leviticus 16:1-34. It was the lid of the ark which contained the law of God. Though made of pure gold, it needed to be sprinkled with blood by the High Priest once a year. this life-blood, shed to represent the punishment due to the Israelites for their sins, was thus brought (by means of sprinkling) into contact with the receptacle of the Law.

The mercy-seat is not only referred to as one of the Levitical 'shadows' in Hebrews 9:5, but is identified with the atoning work of Christ in Romans 3:25, where we read, 'God hath set forth (Christ) as a propitiation (Luther, 'zu einem Gnadenstuhl') through faith in his blood.'

NT Teaching on Atonement and Substitution

The verb εξιλάσκομαιdoes not appear in the N.T., but both ἱλασμός and καθαρισμόςare used of the atoning work of Christ (see 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10, and Hebrews 1:3). The word λύτρονalso applied by Christ to his own death, which was 'a ransom for many' (λύτρον ἀντὶ πολλω̂ν), Matthew 20:28, and Mark 10:45. We have here strongly brought out the truth that the Divine interposition on behalf of sinful man was not a work which cost nothing; it called for no less an offering than the precious life-blood of Christ, who was a 'lamb without blemish and without spot.' as it was an act of self-sacrifice on the Father's part to give his son freely to bear and suffer what He deemed needful, so it was an act of self-sacrifice on the Son's part to drink the cup which his Father put into his hands. He was at once both a living and a dying sacrifice.

The truth set forth by our Lord in the above-named passages concerning the costliness of atonement is further illustrated by the words of St. Paul in 1 Timothy 2:5-6, 'There is one God, and one mediat or belonging to God and men, Christ Jesus, (himself) man; who gave himself a ransom for all (ἀντίλυτρον ὑπὲρ πάντων), to be testified in due time.' The word μεσίτηςhere translated mediat or is not to be found in the LXX; it seems to imply not so much what is ordinarily meant by a mediator, as a medium, and so a common ground. Jesus Christ is a Being in whom Godhead and manhood meet, so that God and man are made one in Him, and are represented by Him. The son of God, who is One in nature and attributes with the Father, took not only a human body but human nature, so that every child of Adam may claim Him as kinsman; and then gave Himself a ransom for all. Here St. Paul, not content with the word λύτρον, adopts a composite word to make the passage still more emphatic, ἀντίλυτρον ὑπὲρ πάντων, a substitutionary ransom on behalf of all. What men could not do, that Christ Jesus did for them, instead of them, and in their behalf, by the will of God. The obedience of Christ, which culminated in his death, was thus devised, wrought, and accepted by God for the benefit of all men. It may not be needful to assert that He suffered what all men deserved to suffer, but He certainly did what all men were originally intended to do, viz. his Father's will in all its fulness; and that will, in his case, involved that He should suffer death for the sin of the world, destroying there by the body of sin, whilst by his resurrection He opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.

The Hebrew preposition rendered by the word for in connection with the doctrine of acceptance and atonement does not mean instead of, but over, on, because of, or on account of. The preposition which properly marks substitution is never used in connection with the word caphar. To make atonement for a sin is literally to cover over the sin, the preposition (al, על ) being constantly used with verbs signifying to cover, e.g in Habakkuk 2:14. ' as the waters cover the sea.' Baad (בעד ), because of, is used in some passages, as in Exodus 32:30 in one passage only does the strict idea of substitution, as distinguished from representation, appear in the O.T in connection with sacrifice, namely, in Genesis 22:13, where we are told that Abraham offered up a ram instead of his son. The absence of this peculiar mode of expression from the Levitical law is significant; and it teaches us to be cautious in the use of language relative to the transfer of sins and of righteousness effected in the atonement in connection with this point, the following weighty words from Archbishop Magee's work on the Atonement deserve consideration: - 'The expression to bear the sins of others is familiarised to denote the suffering evils inflicted on account of those sins. I will not contend that this should be called suffering the punishment of those sins, because the idea of punishment cannot be abstracted from that of guilt; and in this respect I differ from many respectable authorities, and even from Dr. Blayney, who uses the word punishment in his translation. But it is evident that it is, notwithstanding, a judicial infliction; and it may perhaps be figuratively denominated punishment, if there by be implied a reference to the actual transgressor, and be understood that suffering which was due to the offender himself; and which, if inflicted on him, would then take the name of punishment in no other sense can the suffering inflicted on one on account of the transgressions of another be called a punishment, and in this light the bearing the punishment of another's sins is to be understood as bearing that which in relation to the sins and to the sinner admits the name of punishment, but with respect to the individual on whom it is actually inflicted, abstractedly considered, can be viewed but in the light of suffering.'

The same writer observes that 'those that hold the doctrine of a vicarious punishment feel it not necessary to contend that the evil inflicted on the victim should be exactly the same in quality and degree with that denounced against the offender; it depending, they say, up on the will of the legislator what satisfaction he will accept in place of the punishment of the offender.' Once more, he remarks that 'a strict vicarious substitution or literal equivalent is not contended for, no such notion belonging to the doctrine of the atonement.'

To sum up the Scriptural view on this doctrine, we may say that atonement signifies shelter by means representation. Applying this general definition to the case of sin, Scripture teaches that shelter for the sinner is secured through his being represented by Christ before the Father; and in order that he should be so represented, Christ became our kinsman, and wrought out that perfect righteousness which man has failed to attain; further, He endured death on the cross, and more than death - the hiding of his Father's countenance, which was the curse due to sin. Thus He who knew not sin was made (or dealt with as) sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. It is a real substitution, for what He did and suffered took the place of what we ought to have done and suffered.

The only time that the word atonement is used in the A. V. of the N.T. is in Romans 5:11. Here it stands for the Greek καταλλαγή, which ought to have been rendered reconciliation in accordance with the previous verse (see R. V.). It is to be remarked that καταλλαγή is never used of the atonement in the O.T. The verb καταλλάσσω is found in the following passages in the second book of Maccabees: (1:5), 'May God be at one with you;' (5:20), 'The great Lord being reconciled;' (7:33), 'He shall be at one with his servants;' (8:29), 'They besought the merciful Lord to be reconciled with his servants.' While these four Apocryphal passages speak of God's reconciliation to man, in the N.T. we read only of man's being reconciled to God. The minister of reconciliation has to beseech men to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20), and in so doing he is expressing in words that which Christ expressed in deeds. for 'God reconciled us to himself through Christ' (2 Corinthians 5:18), and the process by which He did it, namely, the death on the cross (Romans 5:10), is available for the whole world (2 Corinthians 5:19; Romans 11:15).

When we speak of Christ reconciling his Father to us, [See the second article of the Church of England.] we are not to picture up an angry Judge being propitiated by a benevolent Son; this would be an entire misrepresentation of the Christian Faith. Rather we should regard the son as sent by his Father to die for the sins of the world, in order that He might remove the bar which hindered the free action of Divine love on the heart of man. as the Father has committed the work of Judgment to the Son, so has He committed the work of Atonement; and the son of Man is as much the agent of his Father's will in the latter case as in the former.

Public Domain
Girdlestone, Robert Baker. Entry for 'Atonement'. Synonyms of the Old Testament. https://www.studylight.org/lexicons/eng/girdlestone/atonement.html.
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