Mysteries of the Kingdom

            in awe of scripture, viewing it through the lens of the kingship of Jesus

Original Meaning of "Atonement"

    In a previous article, I tackled a key word for understanding the topic of atonement: "justification." This article seeks to clarify the actual word "atonement" itself. In Romans 5:11, many translations use either the word "reconciliation" or "atonement." I hope to show that Scripture does not support the mainstream Protestant understand of the word "atonement."


    Scripture presents mankind as separated from God by sin. "Atonement" refers to the reunion of humans to God and the means by which the problem of human sin is resolved for such a reunion. The 1913 "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia" clarified a serious deficiency in how English Bibles use the word "atonement":

Not only was no effort made to convey the original Hebrew and Greek meanings by means of English words, but no effort was made toward uniformity in translating of Hebrew and Greek words by their English equivalents.

    The ISBE warned that the word "atonement" does not reflect the Greek word for which it was substituted. The Greek word underlying "atonement" is katallasso, meaning "to change in an establishing manner."

  • Romans 5:11 - katallagyn is the noun form of the verb katallasso
  • Romans 5:10 - katallasso is a compound word: kata + allasso.
    • kata is a very common preposition meaning "down" or "against." When employed as a verb prefix, kata indicates that the verb establishes something, as in kathisteimi which Paul used a few verses later in Romans 5:19.
    • allasso means "to change" or "to make other."
      • Allasso comes from the root word allos
      • allos is a common word meaning "other."

    Church Tradition agrees with Scripture that Jesus atoned us to God by changing us through His incarnation, death, and resurrection. Protestant Tradition says that we were atoned to God not by changing us, but by changing God's need for justice - by fulfilling the need for justice.
    All Christians agree that Jesus died for our sins. All Christians agree that He suffered on behalf of humans, but Protestants alone claim that Jesus fixed God's need for justice instead of fixing us. Scripture never states that Jesus satisfied God's need to judiciously penalize humans. Neither does Scripture ever state that Jesus satisfied God's wrath. Both of those ideas come from Protestant logic, not from Scripture.

Both of those ideas come from Protestant logic, not from Scripture.


    In the 11th century AD, a Roman Catholic named Anselm offered the idea that Jesus' life and death satisfied the collective debt of honor which we owed God due to our having dishonored Him in our sins. In the 13th century AD, Thomas Aquinas (also Roman Catholic) tied Anselm's idea of human debt to punishment and "penance." There are four branches of Christianity which stretch back to the apostles themselves, and Roman Catholicism is the only one of those four branches which views atonement through the lense of debt-fulfillment.

    Protestantism (the fifth branch of Christianity) then added to the Roman Catholic idea of debt-atonement. The Reformers said that God required the satisfaction of His wrath and required the satisfaction of justice. Roman Catholics only saw an honor debt and a penance debt in humans, believing that humans could not be healed from sin without the fulfillment of those debts. Protestants added both a wrath debt and a justice debt on top of the honor debt and the penance debt. The Reformers invented the idea that God satisfied His need for wrath and justice by punishing His Son. Neither Scripture, nor the first fifteen centuries of Christianity said such things. The Reformers claimed Sola Scriptura, but they invented the wrathful divine punishment of Jesus by Sola Philosophy.

The Reformers claimed Sola Scriptura,
but they invented the wrathful and divine punishment of Jesus from Sola Philosophy.

    If Protestants are right, then we should wonder why Scripture does not clearly state such things. Moreover, we must wonder whether Christianity ever existed before the Protestant Reformation. If all of Christianity had been wrong about the atonement all around the world for fifteen centuries, then did Christianity really exist? Was there any true Christianity left after all those centuries for the Reformers to reform?


    Jesus atoned us to God by fixing us, not by fixing God. Yet we have a hard time defining the mechanics of how He changed us. We also find it hard to explain the Trinity, but that does not mean that Scripture and Tradition are not consistent about it. We have a hard time explaining the incarnation of the God's Word in human flesh, but Scripture and Tradition are consistent about the fact that it happened. Likewise, the difficulty of explaining our atonement by transformation does not change the fact that Scripture and Tradition have been consistent on the topic.

    Adam transformed humanity into rebels at the beginning of our species. Only a human could change humanity into rebels. Adam was that human (Romans 5:12-21). Moreover, only the origin of the human race could change humanity. Adam was that origin (Romans 5:12-21). So long as Adam was the only human origin of the entire human race, no hope remained. But in the fullness of time, the divine Origin of the human race became human.

In the fullness of time, the divine Origin of humanity became human.

    In the fullness of time, the "Last Adam" (1Cor 15:45-48) joined Himself to us, taking our nature so that we could be joined to Him and become "partakers of the divine nature" (2Pet 1:4). Rising from the dead, Jesus offered His Spirit to all who would be healed of their Adamic nature. We were destined for God's wrath because of what we did, and we did what we did because of what the first Adam made us.

    The problem was not God's wrath, but our rebellious Adamic nature. God's wrath did not need to be resolved. We needed to be resolved. We were "sons of disobedience" (Eph 2:2, Eph 5:6, Col 3:6). Scripture calls the citizens of King Jesus the sons of God, sons of light, sons of day, sons of the kingdom, sons of the Most High, and "sons of the resurrection" (Luke 20:36). I cannot explain it, but somehow the resurrection of King Jesus made the second birth possible for us. Reformed theology claims there is only one people of God, but the first people of God were never offered the option to be twice-born. Something brand new and mysterious happened in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of God's eternal Word!

    We were born Adam-ian and reborn Christ-ian. Therefore the King of Kings declared, "Truly truly I say to you, if someone is not generated out of water and Spirit, he is not able to come into the kingdom of the God." We must submit to the authority of King Jesus and be baptized into His name. All who do so are katallasso; that is to say, they are atoned to God by being transformed from rebellious to righteous through their union to the Righteous One, just as Paul wrote in Romans 5:19...

"For just as the many were made sinners through the rebellion of the one man, likewise also the many are made righteous through the obedience of the one."

    Only a human could change humans, and only the origin of humans could change humans. Therefore only Adam could change humans prior to Jesus because only Adam was both our human origin. The Origin of humanity became human to become the greater Adam, changing His offspring just as Adam changed his offspring. The Masoretic Hebrew of Isaiah 53:10 says of our King's suffering, "He will see His seed."

"Real Meaning of Atonement" by Matthew Bryan was first published at on May 3rd, 2017. All rights are reserved.