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The Doctrine of the Atonement (part 2) - God's Plan for Salvation

When God created Adam and Eve, they were created in His "image," i.e. they had God's spiritual life and could have fellowship with Him. When they sinned, they became spiritually dead and also prone to physical death. We, the human race, inherited Adam's sinful nature and are thus spiritually dead and incapable of fellowship with God. From Genesis to Revelation, the central theme of the Bible is God's eternal, perfect plan for the salvation of mankind.

In order to gain an overview of this vast subject, I have divided it into six sections:

1. The necessity for the atonement

1.1 God's holiness
1.2 Man's sinfulness
1.3 God's wrath
1.4 God's justice and love


2. Atonement in the Old Testament

2.1 Definition of the term
2.2 The sacrificial system
2.3 The day of atonement
2.4 The passover

3. Atonement in the New Testament

3.1 A revelation of God's love
3.2 Representation
3.3 Substitution
3.4 Identification or union

4. Atonement: the work of Christ

4.1 Christ's obedience
4.2 Christ as the ultimate sacrifice
4.3 Christ as the mediator of the new covenant
4.4 Christ as the eternal high priest

5. The purpose and effects of the atonement

5.1 The Godward aspects

5.1.1 Propitiation
5.1.2 Vindication of the lawgiver
5.1.3 Remission of sins
5.1.4 Reconciliation

5.2 The manward aspects

5.2.1 Reconciliation
5.2.2 Justification
5.2.3 Redemption
5.2.4 Adoption

2. Atonement in the Old Testament

2.1 Definition of the term

The English word "atonement" derives from Anglo-Saxon which is an inadequate language for describing Biblical truth. During the 17th century it meant "reconciliation, at-one-ment," but today it contains "the idea of satisfaction." [1] Thus it can be defined as "the act of making satisfaction for a sinful offense with the object of removing guilt from the offender." [2]


The Hebrew word group translated as "atonement" includes the noun kippur and the verb kapar. The root of this word group is often related to an Arabic root that means "to cover or conceal." [3] Hence the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament, if accompanied by faith, made a covering for sin, concealing it from God's sight so that it would not provoke His wrath.

The Septuagint [4] translated the Hebrew verb as hilaskomai, "to appease," and the Hebrew noun as hilasterion, "a cover" like the mercy-seat, or hilasmos, "a means whereby sin is covered and remitted." [5] This Greek word group is translated by the KJV as "propitiation," by the RSV as "expiation," and by the NIV as "atoning sacrifice." The word "propitiation" reflects the idea in Greek culture of averting the anger of the gods, the word "expiation" means "to pay the penalty," [6] and the words "atoning sacrifice" reflect the Old Testament emphasis of a covering for sin. [7] Some theologians object to the use of the word "propitiation," maintaining that it seems to suggest unworthy ideas of God. However, since both Testaments stress the fact that it is God Himself who has provided the propitiation, [8] the biblical meaning is clear and misunderstanding of the term is avoided.

2.2 The sacrificial system

Before the creation of the world God had ordained that man's sin should be atoned for by the blood of His Son, [9] and thus Jesus is described as "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."[10] However, since the perfect Sacrifice was to be "manifest in these last times," [11] God instituted the practice of animal sacrifices for the Israelites of the Old Testament. These served as a type to point to the future divine sacrifice, and as a means of grace for the repentant and believing.

Because God knew that no man was able to keep His laws, He gave Israel the laws of sacrifice for unintentional sins whereby sinners could approach and worship a holy God. [12] They were forbidden to eat blood, "for the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar." [13] Thus the blood, or the death, of the sacrificial animal was accepted by God as a substitude for the death of the sinner.

This fact was emphasized by the requirement that the guilty party should lay his hand on the head of the animal before it was killed, [14] thus indicating that he identified himself with the victim. [15] The sinner also had to provide the sacrifice according to means - a lamb, two doves, or flour, [16] - which taught him that atonement is not cheap, and sin is never to be taken lightly.

Moreover, God taught Israel through the prophets that He takes "no pleasure in the blood of bulls ..." if it represents mere "meaningless offerings;" [17] that, in fact, He detests the sacrifices offered by the wicked. [18] Therefore, if the rituals of the sacrificial system were not accompanied by "a broken and contrite heart," [19] they were unacceptable to God. Accordingly, forgiveness for sin was obtained only by faith in God's promise. [20]

2.3 The Day of Atonement

This day served as a reminder that the sacrifices offered were not sufficient to atone for wilful sin. On this one day of the year the high priest brought blood into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled it on the cover of the ark, to atone for his own sins as well as the sins of the people. The ark containing the law of God represented the righteousness of God. The cover of the ark was known as the 'mercy seat', and was the place where God met with His people. [21] Thus the sprinkling of the blood on the mercy seat signified that a righteous God could only forgive sin because of an atoning sacrifice.

The Day of Atonement was a type of the perfect atoning work of Christ. [22] The inadequacies of the Old Testament rituals - the blood of the sacrificial animals, the human high priest and the annual repetition - foreshadow the perfection of the New Testament with Jesus' own blood spilled once and for all, and His entry into heaven itself to pave the way for us also to enter into God's presence.

On this same day the sins of the people were also laid on a "scapegoat". [23] This goat was then driven into the desert, figuratively carrying away the sins of the people. [24[ In like manner, Jesus was crucified outside the city, and the sins of the people laid on Him, so that even God forsook Him. [25]

2.4 The Passover

At the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites had to put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts as a "sign," so that God's judgement would "pass over" them. [26] The Passover was instituted as an annual feast of remembrance, [27] commemorating their deliverance from destruction.

At its inception, God announced that that month would henceforth be the first month 0f their year, signifying a new beginning. [28] The Passover lamb slain points to Christ slain on Calvary. As the death angel passed over the Israelite houses, so God's wrath passes over believers. [29]

Immediately after the Passover lamb was slaughtered, all leaven had to be put out of the house for seven days. [30] Paul describes old yeast as "the yeast of malice and wickedness," and bread without yeast as "the bread of sincerity and truth." [31] Therefore, after being redeemed by Christ, sin should be put away and holy lives led.


1. Wuest, p.83
2. Deist, p.58
3. Richards, p.82
4. Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament from 284 to 247 BC
5. Vine, p.905-6
6. Webster, p.293
7. Richards, p.83
8. Leviticus 17:11; Romans 3:25
9. 1 Peter 1:19-20
10. Revelation 13:8
11. 1 Peter 1:20
12. Leviticus 1-7
13. Leviticus 17:11
14. Leviticus 4:4,15
15. Leviticus 1:4
16. Leviticus 5:7,11
17. Isaiah 1:10-13
18. Proverbs 15:8
19. Psalms 51:16-17
20. Leviticus 4:26; Genesis 15:6
21. Exodus 25:17,22
22. Hebrews 9-10
23. Leviticus 16:26
24. Leviticus 16:21-22
25. Matthew 27:46
26. Exodus 12:13
27. Leviticus 23:4-5
28. Genesis 12:11-2
29. 1 Corinthians 5:7
30. Genesis 12: 17-19
31. 1 Corinthians 5:8


1. Berkhof, L. Systematic Theology, Michigan, U.S.A.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1941

2. Berkouwer, G.C. The Work of Christ, Michigan, U.S.A.: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965

3. Calvin, J. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Philadelphia, U.S.A.: Westminster Press, 1960

4. Deist, F. A Concise Dictionary of Theological Terms, Johannesburg, R.S.A.: Van Schaik, 1984

5. Douglas, J. (ed.) New Bible Dictionary, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1962

6. Goodrick, E.W. The NIV Complete Concordance, Michiga, U.S.A.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981

7. Hammond, T.C. In Understanding Be Men, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1968

8. Packer, J.I. Knowing God, London, England: Hodder & Stoughton, 1975

9. Pearlman, M. Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible, Roodepoort, R.S.A.: Gospel Publishing House, 1937

10. Richards, L.O. Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, Michigan, U.S.A.: Regency Reference Library, 1985

11. Stott, J.R.W. The Letters of John, Leichester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988

12. Thompson, F.C. The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, Michigan, U.S.A.: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1983

13. Vine, W.E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words, Massachusetts, U.S.A.: Hendrickson Publishers, ?

14. Webster, ? Webster's 7th Collegiate Dictionary, Massachusetts, U.S.A.: G & C Merriam Co., 1965

15. Wuest, K.S. Word Studies: Romans in the Greek NT, Michigan, U.S.A.: Eerdman's Publishing Co., 1955


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Posted in: Bible by on September 19, 2010 @ 7:25 pm

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