“Paul states in Romans 5:11: ‘And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.’ In what sense did Christ atone for our sins?”
This passage is one of many in our English translation of the Scriptures where it is necessary to consult the original language to ensure we have the proper sense of what the apostle was seeking to convey. When we do so, we find that the Greek word katallage or “reconciliation” is used. It is understandable that the KJV translators used the term atonement because in their day the term meant “agreement, concord, or reconciliation after enmity or controversy.”
For the sake of clarification, in contemporary language the word atonement obscures the meaning of the passage. The emphasis of Paul’s special revelation here is on reconciliation, not atonement, as confirmed by the Greek text. The Hebrew word kaphar, translated “atonement” in the Old Testament meant “to cover.” Hence, the blood of bulls and goats merely covered the sins of those in Old Testament times; it didn’t have the efficacy to remove them.
“And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Heb. 10:11).
Through the forbearance of God those sins that were atoned for in time past are now removed on the basis of the shed blood of Christ (Rom. 3:25). Today, Paul teaches us that we are freely justified and forgiven by the blood of Christ: “Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Rom. 5:9). In other words, the blood of Christ doesn’t atone for our sins, it actually cleanses them forevermore.
In the context of the above passage, the apostle was instructing the Romans that it is a source of joy to know that we are at peace with God (Rom. 5:1), seeing that we have accepted His gracious offer of reconciliation (II Cor. 5:18). The subject of Romans 5:11 is reconciliation, not atonement.
To the Reader:
Some of our Two Minutes articles were written many years ago by Pastor C. R. Stam for publication in newspapers. When many of these articles were later compiled in book form, Pastor Stam wrote this word of explanation in the Preface:
"It should be borne in mind that the newspaper column, Two Minutes With the Bible, has now been published for many years, so that local, national and international events are discussed as if they occurred only recently. Rather than rewrite or date such articles, we have left them just as they were when first published. This, we felt, would add to the interest, especially since our readers understand that they first appeared as newspaper articles."
To this we would add that the same is true for the articles written by others that we continue to add, on a regular basis, to the Two Minutes library. We hope that you'll agree that while some of the references in these articles are dated, the spiritual truths taught therein are timeless.