Stephen Finlan

in Biblical Studies

ISBN: 9780195393361
Published online March 2013 | | DOI:


Theological usage of the term “atonement” refers to a cluster of ideas in the Old Testament that center around the cleansing of impurity (which needs to be done to prevent God from leaving the Temple), and to New Testament notions that “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3), and that “we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10). In English translations of the Old Testament, “make atonement” usually translates kipper, the verb for the cultic removal of impurity from the Temple or sanctuary, accomplished through the dashing or sprinkling of the blood of the “purification offering” or “sin offering” on particular Temple furnishings. Kipper occurs most often, but not exclusively, in sacrificial texts. Kipper is also performed over the scapegoat in one passage (Leviticus 16:10). Thus scholarly discussions of atonement in the Old Testament focus on the sacrificial and scapegoat rituals, but also attend to the procedure for making a redemption payment, for which the word kopher (cognate with kipper) is used. The most important day in the ancient Jewish liturgical calendar was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when the supreme sacrificial rituals of the year were performed, and the only day of the year on which the scapegoat rite was performed. Atonement in the New Testament is expressed through metaphors of sacrifice, scapegoat, and redemption to picture the meaning of the death of Christ. The Apostle Paul is the main fountainhead of these soteriological metaphors, but they occur in the other epistles and in Revelation. Atonement imagery is much less common in the Gospels, possibly appearing in the Lord’s Supper and the ransom saying (Mark 10:45). Most (not all) scholars would agree that atonement in the Old Testament concerns cleansing the Temple (the Deity’s home), not soteriology. Atonement is central to the theology of the New Testament, since atonement metaphors are at the heart of soteriology in Paul’s letters, the deutero-Pauline letters, Hebrews, First Peter, First John, and Revelation.

Article.  13058 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribeRecommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »