Although the English word, “reconcile”, has varied implications, all the way from “what you do with a bank statement” to “to render no longer opposed, to bring to acquiescence, to win over to friendliness, to bring into agreement or harmony, to settle a quarrel, or to make compatible”, when applied to “religious” matters, it becomes a concept for which common understanding has been skewed by almost exclusive focus on only one of the ten New Testament appearances of its related words.
Complicated theological treatises have been created, adding intricate and ominous details to Paul’s simple statement, in a subordinate, conditional clause (Rom.5:10), “IF, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son,” and totally ignoring the main clause, “much rather, now that we have been reconciled, shall we be kept safe [“saved”] in his life!” Paul himself says nothing whatever about the rationale, the need, or the process of that reconciliation, although involved and fanciful technical explanations have become a favorite playground for people who enjoy thundering judgment at others. For Paul, it is subordinate to his encouraging message of safety!
The very basic linguistic principle of looking at the way words are used is especially helpful in a situation like this, where a root word, allasso, used six times and exclusively translated, in traditional versions, as “change”, appears with three different prefixes, all traditionally translated “reconcile”. These include apo, “away from, usually connoting avoidance or departure, but also derivation or origin”; dia, “through, thoroughly , and occasionally causation”; and kata, “down, concerning, near, about, or direction toward.” These prefixed forms are themselves narrowly used: apokatalasso in Eph.2:16 and Col.1:20,21; diallasso in Mt.5:24, and katallasso in Rom.5:10 (twice), and II Cor.5:18, 19, 20, as well as I Cor.7:11, where it simply refers to an estranged marital relationship.
Lexically, there is little difference noted in any of the lexicons, except that Bauer restricts apokatallasso to Christian writers, and diallasso to disputes between individuals.
The very use of the term “reconcile” does, of course, require the assumption of a former condition of, if not overt enmity, at least some sort of alienation or substantial disagreement. Hence the need, whether as a condition of the reconciliation or as its goal, for acknowledging the situation, in order for it to be remedied (see previous post on homologeo, “saying the same thing”), is obvious. Once reconciled, however, (almost always an aorist tense), the relationship of the parties involved is permanently altered.
Keep in mind that the root word, alasso, “change”, (seen in isolation in Ac.6:14, Rom.1:23, I Cor.15:51, 52; Gal.4:20, and Heb.1:12), remains integral to the understanding of all of its forms. These are practical words, not merely records in a ledger. Change is expected.
When Jesus directed his followers to “make things right” (diallagethi) with an offended brother before making an offering (Mt.5:25), he expected observable results: a transformed relationship. (This is the only appearance of any of these terms in the gospel accounts).
Likewise, the context (Eph.2:13-22) of Paul’s use of apokatallasso combines the creation of a new relationship with God “in Christ Jesus” with the contemporaneous destruction of barriers between people, who are themselves being re-created into one Body, “fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (v.19). The same theme is prominent in the Colossian passage (1:19-22): extending, here, not only to formerly alienated people, but to “things on earth and things in the heavens!”
The same situation is described in II Cor.5:17-21, where katallasso appears three times, and the noun form katallage twice. All creation has been made new! Not only for “us” (v.18), but for “the world” (v.19) is the “message of reconciliation” offered (v.20). And it is immediately paired with an assignment (see diakonia in W.S. #40): God has “made us responsible for the message of reconciliation!” A clear mandate for “show and tell”!
There is one unrelated word that is once translated “make reconciliation” (Heb.2:17), and once “be merciful” (Lk.18:13): hilaskomai, used only these two times in the entire New Testament. Homer used it of sacrifices in efforts to appease the gods of Olympus, in his stories of their often capricious manipulation of human affairs.Plato occasionally applied it to interpersonal conflict. Significantly, even the two New Testament references also seem to assume that more pagan notion of negotiating a temporary truce with God, in contrast with all the previous passages, where the initiative comes from God’s side, and results in a total, permanent transformation. The Hebrews reference, even though it describes the Lord Jesus, does so in the context of a parallel with the duties of the Jewish high priest under the old system (which, the writer asserts repeatedly, did not work!) The publican [tax collector] in Jesus’ parable quoted by Luke exhibits a similar attitude, of a desire to appease a God whose displeasure he feared. He is commended only because of being compared with the Pharisee, whose self-congratulatory attitude was even worse!
Notable in all of these words is the preponderance of aorist tenses, which signify either punctiliar past or decisive, singular action. The reconciliation offered in the New Testament is an accomplished fact. Only once is the verb in the present (progressive or continuous) tense: when speaking of what God was in the process of doing, in the person of Christ (II Cor.5:19). Reconciliation is a “done deal,” although its message (II Cor.5) still needs to be delivered and received.
We would do well to consider whether this accomplished fact is evident in the message we proclaim, and in the fellowships that claim to represent its Author.
Reconciliation is one of the primary components in the building (Eph.2:20-22) of “God’s permanent dwelling place”, for which his people are deliberately being “built together”
Any purported “reconciliation with God” that does not include the reconciliation of former human enemies into one Body, one brotherhood, one Kingdom, is not only patently false, but diabolically fraudulent!
May we build – and be built – in faithfulness!