Word Study #151 — Atonement

As noted previously, I make an earnest effort to respond to requests for word studies. This becomes difficult, however, when the suggested words occur seldom, or not at all, in the New Testament text. And, hard as it may be for those who promote “doctrines” to believe, this is the case with one of their favorite “passwords”, “atonement.”
Even in their traditionally beloved KJV, the term “atonement” appears only one single time – Rom.5:11 – where it represents katallage, which is more commonly rendered “reconciliation” (#69). Katallage also appears only once in the LXX – Is.9:5 – where it speaks of restitution for “things acquired by deceit”.

Another word family, hilaskomai (v.), hilasmos (n.), and hilasterion (combined with “place”), appearing in the New Testament only twice in each form, was used frequently in pagan writings of attempts to appease offended deities, but was never used by Jesus, or by any of the gospel writers, except as the verb appears in the publican’s plea for mercy (Lk.18:13), and the Heb.2:17 description of the duty of the high priest under the old (failed) system. The noun is seen only in I Jn.2:2 and 4:10, where it is traditionally translated “propitiation,” and the compound form in Rom.3:25 and Heb.9:5, referring to the “place of mercy” described among the tabernacle/temple furnishings in the LXX (Ex.25:16-21, 31;17, 35:11, 38:5-8) and the institution – and subsequent re-institution – of the ceremonial Day of Atonement (Lv.16:2-15, Ezek.43:14-20). The LXX uses the noun (7x) and verb (10x) forms primarily in reference to mercy or forgiveness begged of God – more in line with the pagan usage. Even so, only twice (Num.5:8 and Ezk.44:27) is there an accompanying reference to the killing of an animal sacrifice – once a ram, and once a goat.

So how did this come to be such a central theme in what passes for “Christian teaching”, when Jesus never made any reference to it?
How did it become identified with Jesus’ death, when that took place at the time of Passover – a festival of freedom and deliverance from bondage – and NOT on the Day of Atonement, with its focus on the problem of “sins”?
How can “theologians” cherry-pick a few “verses” from Hebrews describing the old ways, with which to embroider their theories, and ignore the over-arching message of that entire epistle, that the old system was a complete failure?

The Day of Atonement does appear once (Lv.25:9) prescribed as the introduction to the Year of Jubilee, which Jesus announced as the permanent condition in his Kingdom (Lk.4:18-19). Notice that this announcement was at the beginning, not the end, of his ministry.
I have never heard that connection addressed. I wonder if perhaps that “introduction to the Jubilee” idea was behind the content of the “repentance” (#6) message of John the Baptist, as Jesus’ fore-runner? It would fit his messages better than those of Jesus, and would blend well with Jesus’ statement (Lk.16:16) that “the law and the prophets (were in effect) until John. Since then, the Kingdom of God is being proclaimed!”

In the absence of any evidence that Jesus himself ever viewed his purpose (#23) or activity as being connected with “atonement” – whether the pagan concept of appeasement of an angry deity, attempted restitution for offenses, or punishment for unnamed “sins” – I can only conclude that this is another case where “doctrines” were invented – and their acceptance mandated – to enhance the power of an emerging hierarchy over unwitting subordinates.

I prefer to follow King Jesus into the Kingdom he has prepared for all of us who answer his call!

2 Responses to Word Study #151 — Atonement

  1. terry welborn says:

    Thanks for this treatise, Ruth. I never would have guessed “atonement” per se is not in the New Testament. Cause for re-thinking an old doctrine.

  2. ruthpmartin says:

    There are a lot of “assumed” things like that. We need to become aware of them, and quit imposing things that JESUS NEVER SAID upon people!

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