The Glossary of Terms



Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

atonement. In the O.T., the taking away or covering of sin, chiefly by offerings and the sacrifice of animals, so that the relatioinshiop between God and man might be restored. Ex. 29:33; Lev 4:20; 2 Chron. 29:24; Neh. 10:32-33.

day of atonement. A yearly day of fasting and repentance, held in the autumn, on which the high priest offered special sacrificies on behalf of all the people in the most holy place. This was the only time that anyone entered the inner part of the temple. Lev., chs. 16 (description); 23:28; 25:9. It is the fast referred to in Acts 27:9.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

atonement, the means by which the guilt-punishment chain produced by violation of God’s will is broken, as well as the resulting state of reconciliation (‘at-onement’) with God. For most ancients, violation of the world order led to punishment by divine powers; only atonement could prevent or end such punishment. The character of atonement varied greatly, however, depending on concepts of the deity, human existence, and the order of violation.

The English word ‘atonement’ does not occur in the rsv (cf. Rom. 5:11: ‘atonement’ in the kjv, ‘reconciliation’ in the rsv). The Hebrew word with which the concept of atonement is associated in the ot can be translated variously as ‘purge,’ ‘cleanse,’ ‘expiate,’ ‘purify,’ ‘wipe on or off,’ ‘cover,’ etc. The Septuagint (lxx) Greek equivalent was of influence for the language and thought of the nt.

The ot viewed a number of offerings and sacrifices as atoning. The best known were the elaborate sacrificial/priestly rites of atonement developed mainly in the postexilic period. Basic to their development was the ot view of God: God was the faithful, holy covenant partner to his people; he provided the means of atonement when the sanctuary or the land became defiled, or when the people were unfaithful. God did not need appeasement; rather, atonement removed the sinful barrier to the covenantal relationship. The rites of atonement were carried out by the high priest through prescribed sacrifices in the Temple. Covenant renewal and restoration were connected to the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). Atonement was anything but routine and automatic (Pss. 40; 51:15-17). For early Judaism, the atonement base was broadened to include the sacrifice of martyrs whose achievements were calculated and deemed meritorious for others (e.g., 4 Macc. 6:28-29; 17:20-24).

In the nt, atonement is linked conclusively to the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. According to early traditions in the first three (‘synoptic’) gospels, Jesus may have understood his destiny in atoning terms (Mark 10:45b; 14:24; cf. Isa. 53; Exod. 32:30-32). Early Christian thought developed this and other ot backgrounds. For Paul, for example, the location and source of God’s mercy, namely Jesus Christ, was central (kjv: ‘mercy seat,’ rsv: ‘expiation’; Rom. 3:25). For Hebrews, the central image was that of the high priest (Heb. 2:17; 4:14-5:10; 10:19-21; cf. Lev. 16; Ps. 110:1-4). Early appropriation of an intercessory ‘on-our-behalf’ traditional formula enhanced this development of seeing in Jesus the locus of atonement (1 Cor. 15:3). Atonement as ‘redemption’ (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; Gal. 3:13; 4:5) may have other backgrounds beside those of the ot (Exod. 4:22-23; 21:30; 30:16; Num. 35:31-33). Unlike other nt writings, Luke-Acts makes little use of atonement concepts.

Atonement, Day of (Heb. Yom Kippur), a fast day on which no work was done, observed in Israel ten days after the fall new year (Lev. 23:27-32) to atone for the sins of the past year. An offering of incense was made by the high priest in the innermost chamber of the Temple, the Holy of Holies, the only time in the year he entered there. The sins of the people were symbolically placed upon the ‘scapegoat,’ which was driven into the wilderness. Hebrews 8-9 draw heavily on the Day of Atonement to explain Christ’s sacrifice.

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