What A Man Says
We are in the middle of a multipart series in which we are examining what sin is, why it exists, how it affects us, what is atonement, why it is needed, and how we apply it. Since we have learned the basics of what sin is and where it came from, we can now ask the next fundamental question on this topic…. What is atonement?
Let’s start with a simple definition of atonement. Atonement, or to atone for something, means this… satisfaction or reparation made by giving an equivalent for an injury, or by doing or suffering that which is received in satisfaction for an offense or injury. So how can we think of what this means in a practical way…. Think of balance or scale. When a weight has been placed on one side of a scale, in order for the scale to be brought back into balance, an equal weight needs to be placed on the other side.
Now that we have a basic definition of what atonement is, how then is it used in the Bible? When we look at atonement, specifically in relationship to what it means in the Bible, what do we find? There are two words that are almost exclusively used for atonement in the Bible. One word in Hebrew in the Old Testament and one word in Greek in the new testament.
When we dive into these two words and begin to understand meaning and use, we see some very interesting things…. In total, there are 70 instances in which the word atonement appears in the Bible. But where things start to get very interesting is that 69 of these instances occur in the Old Testament, with the majority of those coming from the books of Leviticus and Numbers. This means that there is only one single instance of Atonement occurring in the New Testament.
The first incident of atonement that we actually see occurs after the sin of Adam and Eve.
Genesis 3:21, AMP
“The Lord God made tunics of [animal] skins for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”
What had to happen for these tunics to be made? An animal, sinless, was put to death setting up the pattern for atonement for the remainder of the Old Testament. Atonement involves an innocent party taking the punishment that was due to the guilty party. This is what is also called a substitutional atonement.
The Hebrew word for atonement is the word “Kaphar” and it literally is translated as a covering. This implies that through the shedding of innocent blood, the sin of man can be atoned for, or covered so that God no longer holds it against the guilty person. Just as happened with Adam and Eve and the tunics.
When we go into the New Testament, we begin to see an entirely new take on atonement however. So what does atonement look like in the new testament? Let’s start with the Greek word for atonement….
The Greek word for atonement is Katallage. This world can be literally defined as: reconciliation, and exchange to restore to divine favor. This is not just a covering of sin, it is a reconciliation with our Father in Heaven, in which our sin has been exchanged for the righteousness of Christ and we are restored to divine favor.
The word Katallage is used only four times in the New Testament and in three of those instances its implication is reconciliation, and that is how it is most often translated. How there is only one time in which this world is in the context of atonement. So where is this word translated into the word atonement?
Romans 5:11, KJV
“And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.”
When we consider these words and this truth, the Lord is showing us something amazing. In the Old Testament, atonement was something that was needed over and over, but in the New Testament it is only spoken once… one time… one atonement for all. Praise the Lord that Jesus is our atonement!