Romans 5:11 Atonement or Reconciliation?
KJB - "And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the ATONEMENT."
NKJV (ESV, NIV, NASB) - "And not only that, but we rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the RECONCILIATION."
There are many "scholars" who criticize the King James Bible rendering of the word "atonement" in this verse. Typical of those tell us it is an error is Adam Clarke. He comments: "It was certainly improper to translate katallage here by atonement, instead of reconciliation; as katallassw signifies to reconcile, and is so rendered by our translators in all the places where it occurs."
Most modern versions like the NKJV, NASB, NIV, RSV, ESV, Holman Standard, NET, the Jehovah Witness New World Translation and all Catholic bible versions like the Douay, St. Joseph NAB 1970 and the New Jerusalem 1985 have translated this word as "reconciliation" - "by whom we have now received the RECONCILIATION."
However it is my contention and that of many other Bible translators that the word, especially in this particular context, is correctly translated as "atonement."
Dr. Lackey gave a good answer to those who claim there is error in the King James Bible. He makes a clear distinction between translational error and translational preference.
Dr. Lackey says: "Atonement, in Romans 5:11, is said to be another error, since it comes from the Greek word (KATALLAGE) which is always translated "reconciliation" in other places. It is also supposed to show doctrinal error, since "atonement" describes a temporary condition which the Old Testament saint had, whereas "reconciliation" describes the permanent condition of the New Testament believer.
If all this is so, why did the KJV translators choose a different word in this place, from all others in the New Testament? The word "now" indicates that they evidently believed the Old Testament doctrine of atonement to be fulfilled in the one great sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. We have "now" received that which was only foreshadowed and promised in every bloody sacrifice that was made before the cross. There is no error here; if the KJV translators were intelligent enough to use "reconciliation" every other instance in the New Testament, they surely must have had a good reason for choosing "atonement" in Romans 5:11.
Every translator knows that in all translation there will be some interpretation. Such is unavoidable. This instance is obviously a matter of their interpretation, which, by the way, is clearly a correct one. Every Bible-believer knows that the sacrifice of Christ fulfilled all that was foreshadowed in the many sacrifices of the Old Testament. Again we see that, before one charges error, it is a good idea to stop and think about what is actually being said and try to find a reason why a different word was chosen. When such is done, there will always be a great and precious truth learned." (end of Dr. Lackey's comments)
Oxford Dictionary - the Atonement - Christian Theology the reconciliation of God and humankind through Jesus Christ.
ORIGIN early 16th cent. (denoting unity or reconciliation, especially between God and man): from at one + -ment, influenced by medieval Latin adunamentum ‘unity,’ and earlier onement from an obsolete verb one‘to unite.’
Webster's Dictionary 1828 - ATO'NEMENT, noun
1. Agreement; concord; reconciliation, after enmity or controversy. Romans 5:11.
2. Expiation; satisfaction or reparation made by giving an equivalent for an injury, or by doing or suffering that which is received in satisfaction for an offense or injury; with for. And Moses said to Aaron, go to the altar, and offer thy sin-offering, and thy burnt-offering, and make an atonement for thyself and for the people. Leviticus 9:7.
Let's examine the Hebrew word Kah-phar # 3722, to see how it is used and variously translated, not only in the King James Bible but in many other Bibles as well. This particular Hebrew word has several meanings. It is variously translated as:
#1. "to make an atonement", as in Exodus 30:10 "And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements." See also Leviticus 4:20; Numbers 15:28, and First Chronicles 6:49 for other examples.
#2. "to purge" - Ezekiel 43:20 "And thou shalt take of the blood thereof, and put it on the four horns of it...thus shalt thou cleanse and PURGE it." Psalm 79:9 "Deliver us, and PURGE AWAY our sins." Psalm 65:3 "as for our transgressions, thou shalt PURGE them AWAY."
#3. "to forgive" - Psalm 78:38 "But he, being full of compassion, FORGAVE their iniquity." See also Jeremiah 18:23.
#4. "to be merciful" - Deuteronomy 21:8 "BE MERCIFUL, O Lord, unto thy people"; Deuteronomy 32:43 "and will BE MERCIFUL unto his land, and to his people."
#5 "to appease" - Genesis 32:20 "I will APPEASE him with the present that goeth before me"
#6 "to make reconciliation" - Leviticus 8:15 "And he slew it; and Moses took the blood, and put it upon the horns of the altar round about with his finger, and purified the altar, and poured the blood at the bottom of the altar, and sanctified it, TO MAKE RECONCILIATION upon it."
This same Hebrew word is translated as "reconciliation" or "to reconcile" in Leviticus 6:30; 16:20; Ezekiel 45:15 and 17.
In the highly significant prophetic passage in the book of Daniel we see that the same Hebrew word can be correctly translated as both "atonement" and "reconciliation" - they are synonyms. In Daniel 9:24 we read: "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and TO MAKE RECONCILIATION for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness..."
Here the same Hebrew word, Kah-phar, which normally means "to make an atonement" is translated as "to make reconciliation", not only in the King James Bible but also in the NKJV, Revised Version, American Standard Version, Coverdale, Bishops' Bible, Geneva Bible, Webster's translation, and the Third Millennium Bible.
#7 "to pitch" In Genesis 6:14 God told Noah: "Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and SHALT PITCH IT within and without with pitch."
The same verb that means "to make an atonement" and "to reconcile" is also used here as "to pitch", which means to smear or cover with pitch. The word Pitch can mean a kind of tar, soft asphalt, or resin, which would both unite and waterproof the ark.
I remember that I too once laughed at the idea that "atonement" meant "at-one-ment", but then I started seeing how the Hebrew word is used, and that is exactly what it means. To make reconciliation is to bring two parties who were at enmity with each other, into a state of peace and harmony.
Even when we look at the example in Genesis of where Noah was to "pitch" the ark within and without with Pitch, the idea is that the pitch seals and unites all the different boards of the boat into a single mass and acts as a unifier - thus, atonement.
It is from this one example in Genesis that many people have wrongly concluded that atonement means a "covering". I think they have failed to consider all the other uses of this word, where it means to reconcile, to pacify, or to make an at-one-ment.
Let's look at some modern English dictionaries to see if the words "atonement" and "reconciliation" can be synonymous.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition 2000.
Atonement - 1. Amends or reparation made for an injury or wrong; expiation. 2a. Reconciliation or an instance of reconciliation between God and humans. b. Atonement Christianity The reconciliation of God and humans brought about by the redemptive life and death of Jesus.
1. An act of making amends for, making up for, or paying for a wrongdoing, crime, sin, etc.
2. Christianity. The reconciliation of God and man through the sufferings and death of Christ.
The Oxford English Dictionary - (the Atonement) Christian Theology the reconciliation of God and mankind through the death of Jesus Christ.
Webster’s Dictionary 1913 - Atonement n. 1. (Literally, a setting at one.) Reconciliation; restoration of friendly relations; agreement; concord.
By whom we have now received the atonement. Rom. v. 11.
He desires to make atonement Betwixt the Duke of Gloucester and your brothers. Shak.
Merriam- Webster’s English Dictionary - Atonement - the reconciliation of God and humankind through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.
Funk and Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary - Atonement: Satisfaction, reparation, or expiation made for wrong or injury; amends. The reconciliation between God and man effected by Christ.
Other Christian commentators have come to the passage in Romans 5:11 and have made no attempt at all to try to "correct" the alleged translational error as found in the King James Bible.
John Gill comments on the Atonement in Romans 5:11 - "by whom we have now received the atonement" - atonement is not made, but received by us; which denotes the application of the atoning blood and sacrifice of Christ to the conscience, the Spirit's witness of interest in it, and the office of faith, as a recipient of it: it is not faith, nor anything else of the creature's, that makes the atonement, only Christ; but faith receives it from him, and by him; which, as it is the ground of present joying in God, so it is the foundation of hope of future glory: the word "now" refers to the Gospel dispensation... Blessed be God for the atoning sacrifice of Christ!"
Matthew Henry says: " We joy in God, not only saved from his wrath, but solacing ourselves in his love, and this through Jesus Christ...and all this by virtue of the atonement. For by him we Christians, we believers, have now, now in gospel times, received the atonement, which was typified by the sacrifices under thee law, and is an earnest of our happiness in heaven. True believers do by Jesus Christ receive the atonement. Receiving the atonement is our actual reconciliation to God in justification, grounded upon Christ's satisfaction."
Notice that Matthew Henry uses both the words "atonement" and "reconciliation" as synonyms, and the word atonement ties into the types of the Old Testament sacrifices and their fulfillment in that of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Trench Synonyms of the New Testament page 307 "When our Authorized Version was made, atonement referred to reconciliation or the making up of a previous enmity. All of its uses in our early literature justify the etymology that "atonement" is "at-one-ment" and therefore equivalent to "reconciliation".
Barnes' Notes on the Bible - "Atonement at the time of the A.V. signified reconciliation, at-one-ment, the making two estranged parties at one. So Shakespeare: "He and Aufidius can no more atone Than violenist contrarieties." "Coriolanus," iv., 6."
Matthew Poole’s Commentary - “By whom we have now received THE ATONEMENT; this is rendered as the reason why we should rejoice in God through Jesus Christ; for by him God is ATONED or reconciled, satisfaction being made for our sins in his blood.”
C.H. Surgeon - “By whom we have now received the ATONEMENT. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, we are at one with God, we are reconciled to him by the death of his Son. All our sin is for ever put away we have received THE ATONEMENT, and we rejoice in the God of our salvation Glory be to his holy name for ever and ever!”
Robert Haldane’s Commentary on Romans - By whom we have now received the atonement, or reconciliation, according to the translation of the same word in the preceding verse. ATONEMENT has been made through the death of Christ. The Apostle, and they whom he addressed, being believers, had received the ATONEMENT, which Christ has not only accomplished, but makes His people receive it. Among the various errors that have discovered themselves in modern times, few are more lamentable or dangerous than the views of the ATONEMENT that have been adopted by many. Instead of considering the ATONEMENT of Christ as a real compensation to the Divine justice for the sins of those who are saved, so that God may remain just, while He is merciful to the chief of sinners, many look on it as nothing but a mere exhibition of the displeasure of God against sin, intended for the honor and maintenance of His government of the universe. This altogether destroys the Gospel, and in reality leaves men exposed to the Divine justice.
It is alleged by those who represent the ATONEMENT as only a expedient, subservient to the interests of morality, that sins are called debts merely in a figurative sense. But nothing can be more clear than that the Scriptures, which speak of sin as a debt, speak quite literally. The word debt extends to everything that justly demands an equivalent. We are said to be bought with the blood of Christ, as the price paid for our sins, which certainly implies that the blood of Christ is that which has given an equivalent to the justice of God, and made an ATONEMENT for those who, according to justice, must otherwise have suffered the penalty of sin, which is death. In the remission, then, of the sins of those who have received the ATONEMENT, God is at once the just God and the Savior, which He could not be without this ATONEMENT.”
In reference to the sacrifice of Christ, by which He made the ATONEMENT, it is said, ‘Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood,’ Revelation 5:9. ‘Without shedding of blood is no remission, for it is the blood that maketh AN ATONEMENT for the soul,’ Hebrews 9:22; Leviticus 17:11.
The law condemned sinners to eternal death. In order, then, to redeem them, it behooved Him to suffer, and He did actually suffer, the full equivalent of that death by which He made ATONEMENT for sin, and through faith His people receive that ATONEMENT… But God, in appointing Christ to make ATONEMENT for sin, and Christ Himself, in undertaking to perform it, had in view from all eternity a certain select number of mankind, who were and still are known to God. For their salvation only was that ATONEMENT made, and for them it will be ultimately effectual” [End of Robert Haldane's comments]
Bibles that say ATONEMENT
Not only has the King James Bible translated Romans 5:11 as "by whom we have now received the ATONEMENT" but so also do the following Bible versions: Tyndale 1525 - "by whom we have receavyd the ATTONMENT.", Coverdale 1535, The Great Bible (Cranmer) 1540 - "by whom we haue now optayned the ATTONMENT.", Matthew's Bible 1549, the Bishops' Bible 1568, the Geneva Bible 1557 to 1602 "by whom we haue nowe receiued the ATONEMENT.", The Beza New Testament 1599, The Bill Bible 1671, Whiston's Primitive N.T. 1745, the Clarke N.T. 1795, Webster's 1833 translation, The Morgan New Testament 1848, The Commonly Received Version 1851, The Revised New Testament 1862, The Dillard N.T. 1885, The Word of Yah 1993, the KJV 21st Century Version 1994, the 1998 Third Millennium Bible "by whom we have now received THE ATONEMENT.", God's First Truth 1999, Tomson New Testament 2002, The Evidence Bible 2003, The Resurrection Life New Testament 2005 (Vince Garcia), The Revised Geneva Bible 2005, the Bond Slave Version 2009, The Conservative Bible 2010, The BRG Bible 2012, and the Hebraic Roots Bible 2012 - "through whom we now received THE ATONEMENT."
I and many others will stick with the Book God has honored far above all others - the Authorized King James Holy Bible.
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