BY J. M. STEPHENSON.
PUBLISHED AT THE ADVENT REVIEW OFFICE.
ROCHESTER, N. Y.
There is perhaps no subject in the entire range of Christian Theology upon which more has been written, and which has been more fully and ably discussed, than that of the atonement; and yet I may safely say, there is none in reference to which the professed Christian world are more at variance, than this. But on this point all parties agree: that it is a subject second to no other in importance and utility. It is the foundation of the whole superstructure of the Christian Religion. ATO 3.1
No one can fail to see the importance of having the foundation of a building of great magnitude and utility, composed of the choicest material, and executed with the most profound skill. Nor is any one prepared to appreciate or understand God’s plan of saving men, without having correct views of the atonement. Our views of this subject will give shape to our views of every Bible doctrine. It is, therefore, a matter of vital importance that our views of this subject be correct. As an eminent writer justly observes, “Errors on this subject sap the whole structure of religion. All the great outlines of theology become vague and incoherent notions when deprived of their connection with this central truth.” ATO 3.2
In the investigation of this subject I propose considering:- ATO 4.1
I. The true import of the Hebrew word rendered atonement. Not being a Hebrew scholar, I will give the criticism of another. ATO 4.2
“The term in the Hebrew language, which we translate atonement, is copher. As a verb, it literally signifies to cover; and as a noun, a covering; generally, whenever the word occurs, something that has given serious offense, and produced a permanent state of variance between the parties is supposed; and then in relation to the party offended, it signifies to pacify, to appease, or to render him propitious; as Genesis 32:20. ‘And say ye moreover, Behold, thy servant Jacob is behind us. For he said, I will appease him with the present that goeth before me.’ Ezekiel 16:63. ‘That thou mayest remember and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord God.’ ATO 4.3
“When applied to sin, it signifies to cover, or expiate it; to atone, or make satisfaction for it. Psalm 32:1. ‘Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.’ Leviticus 16:30. ‘For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord.’ ATO 4.4
“When the term represents the sinner himself, it implies his being covered, or protected from punishment, and is rendered a ransom, or atonement for him. Exodus 21:30. ‘If there be laid on him a sum of money, then he shall give for the ransom of his life whatsoever is laid upon him.’ Chap. 30:12, 15. ‘When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the Lord, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them when thou numberest them. The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than half a shekel, when they give an offering unto the Lord to make an atonement for your souls.’ ATO 4.5
“This seems to be the plain and unforced meaning of the Hebrew word copher; and when we look into the Greek version of the Old Testament, by the Seventy, we find it translated ilasmos, propitiation; and ‘to make an atonement,’ they express by the word exilaskoniai, which signifies ‘to render propitious.’-Hence, the apostles who wrote in Greek, when referring to the death of Christ, make use of the very same terms which are applied to the legal sacrifices in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament; representing the former, not only as a real and proper sacrifice, but as the truth and substance of all the sacrifices of the Levitical law, and the only true and efficacious atonement for sin. Hebrews 9: passim, and Chap. 10:1-19. As, therefore, the Greek word ilasmos is expressly applied to Christ, 1 John 2:2, ‘And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.’ Chap. 4:10. ‘Herein is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’ And as it gives the true signification of the original word when applied to an atoning sacrifice, we must either admit that the sacrifice of Christ was a real atonement or propitiation for sin, or be reduced to the alternative of denying all that the scripture says respecting the design and effect of sacrifices.”-Religious Encyclopedia.-Page 144. ATO 4.6
The cases where the offending party cannot possibly make satisfaction in their own person, and where the infliction of the threatened penalty would place the transgressor beyond the hope of recovery; (as is the case in all capital offences;) if in such case the suffering of another be accepted in his stead, the atonement thus made by a substitute is denominated a vicarious atonement. ATO 5.1
This is the case with man. He has violated a law which requires perfect obedience; hence he cannot, in any way, make satisfaction for such violation, from the fact that it was all he could possibly do in the first instance to render perfect obedience; and to suffer the penalty (death) due for his transgression would ruin him; hence the atonement made by Christ is justly termed a vicarious atonement. “But 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.” Isaiah 53:5. “For I delivered unto you, first of all, that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.” 1 Corinthians 15:3. ATO 5.2
Some writers confound atonement with reconciliation, and thus lay the foundation for the most fatal errors, such as Universalism, Restorationism, Swedenborgenism, etc. ATO 6.1
As our writer of the Encyclopedia, has well observed, “the appeal to etymology in defence of this confusion of ideas is but egregious trifling, unworthy of a subject so vast and solemn. And as to Romans 5:11, it is well known that the original word there used is not ilasmos, but katallageen, and should have been rendered reconciliation. It is God, not man, who receives the atonement; but believers, as the whole context shows, receive reconciliation through Christ.” Parkhurst, in his Greek Lexicon, says that the Greek word, katallagee, in every instance which it occurs in the New Testament, except Romans 5:11, is rendered reconciliation; and it is thus rendered in the margin of this text, and evidently should have been in the text itself. ATO 6.2