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Theology > Salvation > Work of Salvation > Atonement


Atonement (at-one-ment) speaks of God’s act whereby He atones for the sin of man, sin that man cannot atone for; because, if man is to be saved God must act. Among the facets of Atonement are the following: death by sacrifice, which is for appeasement, that is, propitiation; the shedding of blood, which is the giving up of life; also involved is identification, which is substitution, as in the Old Testament when an animal was substituted for an individual or for the nation, but in the New Testament the Lamb is substituted for the world. Through Atonement God and man become one, or there is reconciliation.

In the nation of Israel atonement is integral to the sacrificial system. “To atone” is “to cover”; the Hebrew word is kaphar, appearing approximately 100 times in the Old Testament, and translated most frequently as “atonement” in the NKJV and ESV (Lev. 1:4; 4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:6, 10, 13, 16, 18; 16:6, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 27, 30, 32, 33, 34; 17:11).

In the New Testament katallagē is translated “atonement” in the KJV in Rom. 5:11 (“by whom we have received the atonement”), but “reconciliation” in the NKJV (“through whom we have now received the reconciliation”; the ESV also has “reconciliation,” but “the” is omitted  though it appears in the Gr. text). The noun form appears four times in the NT, and the verb form appears six times; the only time the word is translated “atonement” is in Romans, the other  translations being either “reconciliation” or “reconcile,” which is true for most modern translations. From this single occurrence Atonement and reconciliation have come to be associated, with Atonement being the foundation for reconciliation, or atonement and reconciliation being one and the same. Be that is it may, the word is part of the Theology of the Church and speaks specifically of the work of Christ on behalf of man.

Central to Atonement in both Testaments is the blood; blood was the atonement in the Old Testament, and blood is required in the New Testament. Life is in the blood; therefore, to shed blood is to shed life, and to shed blood is to give up life:

For the life if the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul (Lev. 17:11; see: vs. 12-14; Gen. 9:4-6);

And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Heb. 9:22; see: vs. 11-18; I Jo. 1:7).

Additionally, the sacrifice must be without blemish and spot (Lev. 26:29-30); and there must be an identification between the one offering the sacrifice and the sacrifice itself: “Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him” (Lev. 1:4). There must be perfect sacrifice that is identified with and then substituted for another. Atonement relates to reconciliation, expiation, propitiation, and redemption; the word for many is simply a manner of referring to the death of Christ for man, with no specific interpretation attached. Numerous books have been written detailing theories of the Atonement.

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