Why is the atonement necessary?
|"What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus; |
What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus."
from Robert Lowry's late 19th century hymn: "Nothing but the Blood." 1
In Christian usage, atonement means "at-one-ment."
This is the state of being "at
one" -- or reconciled -- with God. 2
Historical Christian beliefs about the atonement:
The atonement is one of the principal beliefs shared by most
denominations within Christianity. Most denominations have traditionally taught the
following beliefs. However some faith groups are now deviating from some of
these historic doctrines and are basing their theory of the atonement on the
live of Jesus rather than his death.
|The book of Genesis records that God created Adam and Eve in
the Garden of Eden as proto-humans. Unlike modern-day people, they lacked a
moral sense; they had no knowledge of good and evil. God had prohibited Adam and Eve from eating a fruit from a tree in the
center of the Garden called the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
According to Eve, they were not even allowed to touch it. Seeking to become fully
human by developing a moral sense, they disobeyed God 3
|After Adam and Eve ate the magical fruit, it had a
profound effect on their mental processes. It gave them an ability that no
other living creature had ever experienced: the capability to know the difference
between good and evil. It apparently also altered their DNA, because they
were able to pass this ability to their descendents. However, in eating the fruit, they
had sinned. They
disobeyed the direct command of God.|
|God is totally just and completely free of sin. Because of these
The result is that Adam and Eve's sinful act created a massive gulf between God and the first humans.
|He cannot unilaterally tolerate or forgive sin in humans, or|
|He could unilaterally tolerate and forgive sin, but chooses not to.|
|This gap has continued down to the
present day, because the sin of Adam and Eve has been
transmuted (transferred) to all subsequent generations.
|Roman Catholics teach that every human has inherited
the "original sin" committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden
from our common original parents.
Original sin is "...the hereditary stain with which we are born on
account of our origin or descent from Adam" and Eve.
|Protestants generally teach that Adam and Eve acted as
representatives for the entire human race. Their sin caused the entire
universe to shift in major ways. Every human enters a world marked by
sin, condemnation, and death.|
|An event of unprecedented power was necessary to
heal this gulf, before humans could be reconciled with God. This event was the life
on Earth -- and in particular, the execution -- of Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a Jesus Christ).
He is regarded by most Christian faith groups as the Son of God -- the second person of the Trinity -- the only human who
has ever been able
to lead a sinless life while on earth.|
|According to scholar Vincent Taylor: "The atonement is accomplished in the work of Christ, whose suffering is vicarious,
representative and sacrificial in character; it is on behalf of men, in their name, and for the purpose of their approach to God.
|The sacrificial nature of Yeshua's death is seen in the many references in the Christian Scriptures to the shedding of his blood.
Yeshua is often referred to as the "Lamb of God." His death is linked to the image found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures
(a.k.a. Old Testament) of the ritual killing of a lamb or other animal in the temple, as a temporary sacrifice for human sin.|
|According to Hebrews 9:11: "...almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no
remission [of sins]." Thus, Yeshua's bloody death by torture on the
cross was a necessary precondition to achieve atonement between God and at least
|Yeshua accepted the sins of part of the human race as he was dying on the cross -- all of those committed
by certain humans prior to Yeshua's life on Earth, and those committed during his life, after his
life on Earth, up to the present time. |
|The concept that the shedding of Jesus' blood and his execution allowed
some of the billions of humans who have ever lived to have their sins
forgiven is called the "blood atonement." This same term is used by
some Mormon denominations who assign it a different
A foundational Christian concept: the transference of sins:
The concept of sins being transferred from one or more guilty parties to an innocent person or persons
is rarely seen in most religions or in ethical systems. In fact, almost all systems
of morality consider it to be highly immoral. If John Doe
murders a person, most people would consider it an immoral, illegal act by the
government if they charged his children or parents with the crime, However,
precisely this concept of transferring
the responsibility for sin from the guilty to the innocent appears in many passages of the
Bible. It forms an integral part of historical Christianity.
Without such imputation of sin,
for the sins of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden would have stayed with the
first parents. The sin could not have been transferred to successive generations
and end up infecting modern-day humans. Also, without the imputation of sins, Yeshua could not have absorbed the sins of
part of humanity,
thus paving the way for the atonement. Without the transmission of sin, a case can be made that
if God is just and unwilling or unable to forgive sin, then:
|The major gulf between God the first parents could not have been passed
on to the successive generations of humans down to the present day, and|
|If gap existed, there would be no way to bridge it and achieve atonement.|
Many people in the 21st century reject the concept of sin transference from
the guilty to the innocent. However, it is key to the
various atonement theories.
Without it, the entire sequence of events from the Garden of Eden to the killing
field in Jerusalem makes no sense.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Robert Lowry, "Nothing but the Blood," at:
- "Atonement," HyperDictionary.com, at:
- Genesis 2:16-17.
- Vincent Taylor, "The Atonement in New Testament Teaching," Page
- "Original Sin," Catholic Encyclopedia, at:
Copyright © 2004 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2004-APR-11
Latest update: 2007-JUN-10
Author: B.A. Robinson