Chapter 5 – Roadmap to Resolution

Author: Kevin George

This book is a work in progress. Posts on this blog are to enable readers to examine the manuscript and make commentary. These blog posts are NOT the final version!

There is no doubt that this book will not provide definitive, final answers on this atonement topic. But until the existing erroneous translation distortions related to this topic are removed, we will not be able to grasp the original Hebraic thought that is the true biblical atonement understanding. It is this Hebraic view that is this author’s intent to uncover. No doubt this work will fall short, but maybe it will provide the impetus for a greater scholar to stand on this author’s shoulders and do better. 

Before attempting to unravel this seemingly complex topic, it would be wise to review how and why it became so complex to begin with. The topic of atonement is not simple due to the multitude of concepts that have been added to it. At its core, the idea is simple – atonement is about reconciliation between God and each believer, about a person receiving forgiveness so a relationship can be restored. That is the fundamental idea before other elements get added.

Once theologians like Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin got involved and wanted the Bible to fit within a framework of a deterministic God and the total depravity of man, then things got complicated. Simple words and simple concepts were no longer enough to make their theology work. Additional theological terminology and expanded concepts had to be added.

The PSA doctrine uses these complex definitions and distortions:

  • Sin is more than a choice to disobey, it is a fundamental sin nature.
  • Righteousness is not a genuine choice to obey, as this is humanly impossible due to our sin nature. Righteousness must be delegated by God.
  • Justification becomes God’s act of making a legal transaction, erasing the sin on our imagined ledger account, and declaring us as righteous.
  • Imputation is transferring righteousness from Jesus’ ledger account to ours.
  • Wrath is what God directs at all sinners who have not had their ledgers cleaned and credited with the righteousness of Jesus.
  • Infinite justice and judgment is a supreme attribute of God, the cause of God’s perpetual wrath.
  • Expiation is the act of removing guilt by means of a payment or some other compensation.
  • Propitiation is an action or gift that appeases an offended party, in this case, God.
  • Faith is a simplistic belief, hardly more than a mere mental assent, as anything beyond this will be categorized as works.
  • Works are anything you do from yourself that you think is right to do.
  • Grace is a theological term about God granting everything to wretched humans.
  • Forgiveness is a legal and/or accounting transaction of God erasing your record of sins. This takes place when Christ’s payment is applied to you.
  • Forgiveness from God is fundamentally legal, not relational.
  • Ransom and redemption are terms indicating a literal payment transaction that Jesus made on your behalf.

One of the biggest problems in studying the atonement is that the Bible has been translated with words that have become theological terms today, yet in its original time of writing were not theological terms. One simple example is the word “grace”, which was simply the common word “favor”, void of additional theological meaning. The same can be said for words like “saved”, which means “delivered”, and “faith”, meaning “an active, motivating, compelling belief”, not a mere intellectual assent as PSA proponents tend to claim. With this theological baggage a verse which could have been translated as, “we are delivered by [God’s] favor due to our foundational belief being active in our lives” becomes instead, “by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8), which is loaded with theological terminology, allowing it to be read within theological frames of thought. The Bible then becomes a complicated book for experts of theology to spin one way or another according to their favorite bias. Thus, simple theology becomes complex.

The same theological translation terminology is true with the subject of atonement, except with several additional levels of complexity added to the confusion. Words like “propitiation” and “expiation”, which were not part of the original Hebrew or Greek languages, are used instead of the original simple words, and this allows theologians to swoop in with their expertise in trying to simplify these terms while also inevitably, intentionally or not, spinning the teaching to fit their preferred theological claims on the subject.

One clue that led to opening this author’s eyes on this subject is the fact that the Spanish Bible does not use the word “atonement” at all, as this is a word which was coined by William Tyndale, no doubt with good intentions, by joining the English words “at, one,” and “ment”, to indicate two opposing parties coming to one mental agreement. But in Spanish there is no such “atonement” word; instead, the theological word “expiation” is used, which prevents the reader from grasping the background Hebraic cultural and linguistic framework. The intentions of the translators may have been sincere and good, that is not in question here, but theological terms cause a mental blockage in being able to grasp the ancient use of terms and concepts because the reader becomes accustomed to reading the text with later theological presuppositions instead of struggling to grasp the original cultural and linguistic concepts. The use of theological terminology is a well-intended shortcut, but it inevitably cuts too short and leads the readers and entire church systems down misguided paths. It is high time that this problem be corrected, and this book is but a feeble attempt to point out these problems and provide some much needed resolution.

Since the topic of atonement has become complicated with this baggage of terms and concepts, we must deal with each of these topics like layers of an onion before arriving at the more simplistic understanding that seems to have been the original biblical model. If the original biblical model is explained first, those who have these other word definitions and concepts will quickly dismiss the explanation. Of course, this will surely happen anyway, but for those who are willing to take a second look at these topics, they will be able to see that there is a simple, coherent atonement explanation that is faithful to the text and faithful to the character of a loving God who is also just, while being forgiving, merciful, kind, and patient. 

Topics that must be examined biblically, removing the penal substitution bias, are:

  • Blood covenants
  • Biblical righteousness
  • Biblical justification
  • God’s wrath and judgment
  • Ransom and redemption terms
  • Forgiveness
  • Grace and works
  • Sin
  • Old Covenant atonement
  • Critical Bible texts
  • Reconciliational Atonement

We must identify atonement biases and presuppositions and try to go back to the Hebraic texts, studying without committed theological preconditions and presuppositions as we try to discern the understanding and intent of the people in Bible times. How did they communicate? What was their culture? What was already underlying as unstated common knowledge that we may not be aware of? How did they define these terms, and how did these beliefs affect their personal and social behavior? What were their expectations and God’s expectations at that time? Until we are willing to set church theological systems aside and wrestle with the raw data of the culture, history, language, and lives of the Hebrew people, we will never resolve the topic of atonement. Consider Paul’s argument to the church of Rome that was debating and struggling between Jewish and Roman thinking:

“Then what advantage has the Jew? … Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.” Romans 3:1-2 ESV

A rejection of the Hebraic/Jewish context of the Bible will lead us down winding paths that will split into many theories, be ever searching, but never able to come to the truth. The answer is in the Bible, if we are willing to set our pet theologies aside and humbly learn from the original sources. With this in mind, let’s continue on this journey.