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Template:Atonement in Christianity Atonement is a doctrine that describes how sin can be forgiven by God. In Christian theology the atonement refers to the forgiving or pardoning of sin through the death of Jesus Christ by crucifixion, which made possible the reconciliation between God and creation. Within Christianity there are three main theories for how such atonement might work: the ransom theory, the satisfaction theory and the moral influence theory.

Etymology

The word atonement was invented in the sixteenth century by William Tyndale who recognized that there was not a direct English translation of the biblical Hebraic concept. The word is composed of two parts "at" and "onement" in order to reflect the dual aspect of Christ's sacrifice: the remission of sin and reconciliation of man to God. Tyndale's concept overcomes the limitations of the word reconciliation whilst incorporating aspects of propitiation and forgiveness.[1][2][3]

Atonement in Christianity


Christians have used three different metaphors to understand how the atonement might work[4]. Churches and denominations may vary in which metaphor they consider most accurately fits into their theological perspective, however all Christians emphasize that Jesus is the Saviour of the world and through his death the sins of mankind have been forgiven.[5]

The first metaphor, epitomised by the "ransom to Satan" theory, was used by the fourth-century theologian Gregory of Nyssa based on verses such as Mark 10:45 – "the Son of Man came … to give his life as a ransom for the many". In this metaphor Jesus liberates mankind from slavery to Satan and thus death by giving his own life as a ransom. Victory over Satan consists of swapping the life of the perfect (Jesus), for the lives of the imperfect (mankind). A variation of this view is known as the "Christus Victor" theory, and sees Jesus not used as a ransom but rather defeating Satan in a spiritual battle and thus freeing enslaved mankind by defeating the captor.

The second metaphor, used by the eleventh century theologian Anselm, is called the "satisfaction" theory. In this picture mankind owes a debt not to Satan, but to sovereign God himself. A sovereign may well be able to forgive an insult or an injury in his private capacity, but because he is a sovereign he cannot if the state has been dishonored. Anselm argued that the insult given to God is so great that only a perfect sacrifice could satisfy and Jesus, being both God and man, was this perfect sacrifice. A variation on this theory is the commonly held Protestant "penal substitution theory," which instead of considering sin as an affront to God’s honour, sees sin as the breaking of God’s moral law. Placing a particular emphasis on Romans 6:23 (the wages of sin is death), penal substitution sees sinful man as being subject to God’s wrath with the essence of Jesus' saving work being his substitution in the sinner's place, bearing the curse in the place of man (Galatians 3:13). Another variation that also falls within this metaphor is Hugo Grotius’ "governmental theory", which sees Jesus receiving a punishment as a public example of the lengths to which God will go to uphold the moral order.

The third metaphor is that of healing, associated with Pierre Abélard in the eleventh century, and Paul Tillich in the twentieth. In this picture Jesus’ death on the cross demonstrates the extent of God’s love for us, and moved by this great act of love humankind responds and is transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. This view is favoured by most liberal theologians as the moral influence view, and also forms the basis for Rene Girard’s "mimetic desire" theory (not to be confused with meme theory).

Main theories in detail

Ransom and Christus Victor

Satisfaction

Substitution

Governmental

Moral influence

Scapegoating

Other Christian perspectives

Eastern Christianity

Eastern Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholicism have a substantively different soteriology; this is sometimes cited as the core difference between Eastern and Western Christianity. Salvation is not seen as legal release, but transformation of the human nature itself in the Son taking on human nature. In contrast to other forms of Christianity, the Orthodox tend to use the word "expiation" with regard to what is accomplished in the sacrificial act. In Orthodox theology, expiation is an act of offering that seeks to change the one making the offering. The Greek word that is translated both into propitiation and expiation is "hilasmos" which means "to make acceptable and enable one to draw close to God". Thus the Orthodox emphasis would be that Christ died, not to appease an angry and vindictive Father, or to avert the wrath of God, but to change people so that they may become more like God (see Theosis).[6]

Roman Catholic views on atonement and reparation

As expressed by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor, in the Roman Catholic tradition the concepts of atonement and redemption are often seen as being inherently related. And atonement is often balanced with specific Acts of Reparation which relate the sufferings and death of Christ to the forgiveness of sins.[7]

Moreover, in Miserentissimus Redemptor the Pontif called acts of reparation a duty for Roman Catholics:

"We are holden to the duty of reparation and expiation by a certain more valid title of justice and of love." ... "Moreover this duty of expiation is laid upon the whole race of men"[8]

Pope John Paul II referred to the concept as:

"the unceasing effort to stand beside the endless crosses on which the Son of God continues to be crucified".[9]

Specific Roman Catholic practices such as the Rosary of the Holy Wounds (which does not include the usual rosary mysteries) focus on specific redemptive aspects of Christ's suffering in Calvary.[10]

Non-trinitarian theologies

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) expands the doctrine of the atonement complementary to the substitutionary atonement concept, including the following:

  • Suffering in Gethsemane. The Atonement began in Gethsemane and ends with Christ's resurrection. (Luke 22:44; Doctrine and Covenants 19:16-19; Mosiah 3:7; Alma 7:11-13. Christ described this agony in the Doctrine and Covenants as follows: "...how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.... Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit..." (19:15,18).
  • The relationship of justice, mercy, agency, and God's unconditional love. Christ's infinite atonement was required to satisfy the demands of justice based on eternal law, rendering Him Mediator, Redeemer, and Advocate with the Father. Thus, he proffers divine mercy to the truly penitent who voluntarily come unto him, offering them the gift of his grace to "lift them up" and "be perfected in Him" through his merits (2 Nephi 2 and 9; Alma 12, 34, and 42; Moroni 9:25; 10:33; compare Isaiah 55:1-9).
  • No need for infant baptism. Christ's atonement completely resolved the consequence from the fall of Adam of spiritual death for infants, young children and those of innocent mental capacity who die before an age of self-accountability, hence all these are resurrected to eternal life in the resurrection. However, baptism is required of those who are deemed by God to be accountable for their actions.
  • Empathetic purpose. Christ suffered pain and agony not only for the sins of all men, but also to experience their physical pains, illnesses, anguish from addictions, emotional turmoil and depression, "that His bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities" (Alma 7:12; compare Isaiah 53:4).

"The word (atonement) describes the setting 'at one' of those who have been estranged, and denotes the reconciliation of man to God. Sin is the cause of the estrangement, and therefore the purpose of the atonement is to correct or overcome the consequences of sin." (Bible Dictionary in the LDS version of the King James Bible.)

The New Church (Emanuel Swedenborg)

According to the doctrine of The New Church, as explained by Emanuel Swedenborg, there is no such thing as Substitutionary atonement. According to New Church doctrine, God Himself descended in the form of Divine Truth to incarnate into a human body, which is Jesus Christ or the Son of God. In this human form he conquered Hell by resisting all temptation against evil, until he made his very human body Divine. Thus in Jesus Christ God became man, and man became God, in one person.[11] Redemption was a subjugation of the hells and a reordering of heaven which was accomplished by Jesus resisting temptation. The passion of the cross was not in itself redemption, instead it was the last temptation which Jesus Christ endured before his human was made Divine.[12] From the union of God and man in Jesus Christ proceeded the Holy Spirit, which regenerates all people who make an effort to resist temptation and reform their lives.[13] It is only through actual repentance whereby sins can be remitted.[14] This doctrine is similar to the Eastern Orthodox view of the atonement (see Theosis).

Swedenborg uses the Latin words for expiation and propitiation rather than the word "atonement" which was an invention of the 16th century. The Hebrew word translated as atonement literally means "to cover" or "covering" and first appears in Genesis 6:14 as the word "pitch" which was used to cover the ark of Noah to protect it from the waters of the flood (see Atonement in Judaism). In Swedenborg's commentary on Genesis 6:14 he stated, "In the original text it is not indeed said that it was to be "pitched with pitch" but a word is used which denotes "protection" derived from "expiate" or "propitiate" and therefore it involves the same. The expiation or propitiation of the Lord is protection from the inundation of evil." [15] Simply put, following a state of temptation and repentance, man will reach a state where he will be protected by the Lord from further temptation and evil.

See also

References

  1. The Archbishop of Canterbury: William Tyndale; Reformer and Rebel. A Quincentenary Appreciation. Lambeth Palace, 5th October 1994 [1]
  2. Online Etymology Dictionary, Yom Kippur, 2001
  3. David Rolph Seely, PhD. "Words 'Fitly Spoken': Tyndale's English Translation of the Bible." [2]
  4. Kohler, K. (1997) Atonement from the Jewish Encyclopedia, http://www.mb-soft.com/believe/text/atonemen.htm
  5. Ward, K. (2007) Christianity – a guide for the perplexed. SPCK, London, p. 48- 51
  6. Fr. James Bernstein, author of Surprised by Christ: My journey from Judaism to Orthodox Christianity, The Illumined Heart Podcast, May 22, 2008
  7. Ann Ball, 2003 Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices ISBN 087973910X
  8. Pius XI, Miserentissimus Redemptor (08/05/1928)
  9. Vatican archives http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/letters/2000/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_20001021_riparatrici_en.html
  10. Michael Freze, 1993, Voices, Visions, and Apparitions, OSV Publishing ISBN 087973454X
  11. Swedenborg, Emanuel. The True Christian Religion, containing the Universal Theology of the New Church, 1771. Trans. by John Ager, 1910, n. 81
  12. Ibid., n. 2, 95, 114
  13. Ibid., n. 138
  14. Ibid., n. 528
  15. Swedenborg, Emanuel. Arcana Coelestia, 1758. Trans. by John F. Potts, 1906, n. 645.

External links and Bibliography

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