Keith Hunt - Feast of Atonement? Restitution of All

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The Feast Day of Atonement

All you need to know and a little more




ATONEMENT (Heb. cover; greek; Greek, reconcile). Etymologically
the word atonement signifies a harmonious relationship or that
which brings about such a relationship, i.e., a reconciliation.
It is principally used of the reconciliation between God and man
effected by the work of Christ. The necessity for such
reconciliation is the breach in the primal relationship between
the Creator and the creature occasioned by man's sinful

Behind the Eng. word "atonement" there are several Heb. and Gr.
words which do not correspond exactly one to another. (The circle
of theological ideas is compatible however.) Turning to the
Biblical vocabulary, the initial question is the crucial one
regarding the meaning of the root kaphar. The fundamental idea of
this frequently employed Heb. word seems to be "to cover," or "to
wipe away," i.e., one's sin, hence "to expiate," "to placate." It
is used to describe the effect of the sacrifices at the
consecration of the high priest and the altar (Exod 29:36; Lev
8:14; Ezek 43:20); and of the annual sacrifices for the renewal
of the consecration of the priest, the people, and the Tabernacle
offered on the day called "the Day of Atonement." It is used also
of the sacrifices offered on behalf of the individual, esp. the
sin and trespass offerings (Lev 4:20; Num 5:8) when the one
sacrificing acknowledges his guilt and defilement. Sometimes tr.
"to make reconciliation," "to purge away," or "to reconcile," the
term is closely connected with the word hdtd, which designates
doing that by which atonement is realized. The basic Gr. terms
are the various forms of hildskomai, "to make propitiation," or
"to make a reconciliation," "to atone for," and the verb
katalldasso, meaning "to reconcile."

It is important to note with respect to the sacrifices of the OT
that they bear witness to the rupture of fellowship between God
and man the sinner, that they acknowledge the righteousness of
the divine judgment upon man as sinner, and, finally, that they
constitute a provision for man's forgiveness and reconciliation
to God which has been divinely appointed. All of these ideas are
basic to the thinking of the writers of the NT. Of course, in the
NT the thought is added that the sacrifice of bulls and goats
could never finally cleanse the conscience from the defilement of
sin and appease an offended deity. Therefore the OT sacrifices
have their fulfillment in the death of Christ, who is the true
Lamb of God (John 1:36) whom God has set forth to be a
propitiation through faith in His blood (Rom 3:23-26); it is He
who has obtained eternal redemption for mankind by His own blood,
having entered once for all into the holy place not made with
hands (Heb 9:11).
One may then say that sacrifice is the basic NT category used to
describe the death of Christ. Because this is true, atonement -

which the OT sacrifices wrought in a ceremonial way - is the term
commonly employed by theologians to describe the work of Christ.
By the same token, because the meaning of Christ's death is
central in the NT, a much wider range of Biblical teaching than
that bearing on sacrifice has been included in the theological
discussion of atonement. What the Scriptures have to say about
the nature of God, the significance of the law, the character of
sin, the power of demonic forces, the meaning of salvation, and
the final eschatological redemption of the world - all these are
Scriptural themes which have been more or less central in the
various "theories" of the Atonement.

1. OT Day of Atonement. 

Before elaborating this larger congeries of ideas involved in
interpreting the meaning of the death of Christ as an atonement,
one must deal in a cursory way with the meaning of atonement in
the OT, which is foundational to the NT doctrine of Christ's
atoning work. The crucial material in this regard concerns the
Day of Atonement, which has aptly been called the "Good Friday of
the OT." Of the several passages alluding to this day (cf. Lev
23:26-32; Num 18; 29:711), Leviticus 16 is of capital importance.
There is a detailed set of instructions, given by the Lord to
Moses, concerning the preparations and ceremonies enacted on this
day. The distinctive ceremonial involves many details, some of
which are no longer perspicuous, but it is eminently clear that
on this day there was the highest exercise of the high priest's
mediatorial office. Being a sinner himself and representing a
sinful people, he discarded his gorgeous high priestly garments
and, having bathed himself, assumed an attire which was destitute
of all ornament as fitting a suppliant suing for forgiveness.
This attire was becomingly white, symbolizing the purity required
of those who would enter into the presence of the Holy One of
Israel. Being thus prepared and properly accoutered, he performed
the sacrifices which climax the whole system of purification in
Leviticus. By these sacrifices, which involved the confession of
sin (the priest laid his hands on the head of the scapegoat,
confessing Israel's transgressions, so putting them upon the head
of the goat, Lev 16:21), and the sprinkling of the shed blood
seven times toward the mercy seat where the presence of the Lord
dwelt, the priest made atonement for the sins of the people.
Thus, by a ceremonial act at the central sanctuary, peace and
fellowship with the God of the covenant were restored. The entire
removal of the cause of God's alienation was symbolically set
forth, both by the giving of the life of one animal and the
sending of another into the wilderness.

2. Atonement in the NT. It is this ceremonial of the Day of
Atonement which constitutes the principal paradigm for the author
of Hebrews in his interpretation of the death of Christ. In his
use of the Leviticul materials to illumine the meaning of
Christ's death, one has a striking example of the
continuity-in-movement of redemptive history. What Christ did is
analogous to what the high priest did in the OT. The author of
this epistle knew nothing of the approach which contrasts the
supposed OT view of God, as an angry Deity appeased by the
shedding of blood, with the NT God of Jesus, who as a loving
Father dispenses the favor of forgiveness freely to all His
erring children. Rather, without the shedding of blood there can
be no remission of sins (Heb 9:22). All the symbols and
ceremonies in the OT teaching the Atonement find their true
meaning and fulfillment in the new covenant in Christ's blood
(Matt 26:28; Heb 12:24). He is the suffering servant of the Lord
who brings redemption to all mankind. Along with this fundamental
continuity of redemptive revelation there is discontinuity, a
change brought about by the movement of history. The covenant in
Christ's blood is a new covenant. The writer to the Hebrews
sharply contrasts the work of the high priest in the OT with that
of Christ in the NT, particularly in terms of its efficacy.
Whereas every year the ritual of the Day of Atonement was
re-enacted as the priest entered the Holy of Holies with the
blood of the appointed victim, Christ has entered once and for
all into the true sanctuary, not made with hands, into the
presence of God, to make intercession for us with His own blood.
He has secured a lasting deliverance for mankind. Access to God
is no longer granted to the high priest alone, who himself was
limited to restrictions of time, place, and circumstance. Rather
Christ, the great High Priest, has opened a new and living way to
God, a way by which all whose hearts are purged from the guilt of
sin may at all times have free access to the Father. Having made
atonement for sin, He has reconciled man to God (cf. Heb 7-10).
The same basic interpretation of Christ's death prevails
throughout the NT. According to Paul, one is justified by the
blood of Christ (Rom 5:9), for God has set forth Christ to be a
propitiation (expiation, RSV) through faith in His blood (Rom
3:25). Both Jews and Gentiles have been reconciled to God by the
cross (Eph 2:16). Christ has made peace by the blood of His
cross, reconciling man to God in the body of His flesh through
death (Col 1:20-22). Christ suffered for all, bearing, our sins
in His own body on the tree, healing us by His stripes (1 Pet
2:24; cf. Isa 53). Therefore one can understand the saying of the
Lord that the Son of Man came to give His life a ransom for many
(Matt 20:28), and join with the redeemed in the Book of
Revelation in ascribing praise to Him "who loves us and has freed
us from our sins by his blood" (Rev 1:5,6 RSV).

3. The doctrine of the Atonement. 

a. Its reason. In this all too brief survey of the Biblical
materials, we shall venture to outline a doctrine of the
Atonement, touching upon the questions commonly discussed by the
theologians. The first point to be made is that the Atonement
originated with God; it was He who provided it. However one may
trace the development of blood sacrifice among the Hebrews, there
can be no doubt that in both the priestly and prophetic writings
of the OT it is God who appointed the various rites, giving to
Moses and those who followed him instructions concerning the
manner in which they were to be rendered and the benefits
whichthey secured to the worshiper. So it is in the NT. The
atonement for sin provided by the death of Christ had its source
in God. It is He who "was in Christ reconciling the world to
himself" (2 Cor 5:19). The ultimate reason for this initiative is
not to be found in any necessity laid upon Him, but in His free
and sovereign love. "For God so loved the world that he gave his
only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have
eternal life" (John 3:16). This is the ultimate of revelation;
i.e., the Atonement finds its ultimate explanation in an
unfathomable urge in God toward His sinful and alienated
creatures. He has been pleased, for reasons known only to
Himself, to set His love upon those who are unworthy. The Lord
has loved men with an everlasting love (Jer 31:3), and in due
time commended that love to them in that while they were yet
sinners Christ died for them (Rom 5:8). This, then, is the final
reason for the Atonement. When Scripture says that God is love (1
John 4:7,8), it teaches that love is no incidental aspect of
God's being, something which He may choose to be or not to be at
His pleasure. Rather, it is the essence of His being. Though
people can discover no reason in themselves, no value or worth
which would evoke that love, yet He loves them because He is God
who is love. The Lord says that He set His love upon His people,
not because they were greater in number than any other - for they
were the fewest - but because He loved them (Deut 7:6-8). That
is, He loved them because He loved them; the reason for His love
is hidden in Himself whose name is, "I am who I am" (Exod 3:14).
The principal word which the NT uses for the divine love is
agape. Significantly, eros, the virile word for love in Gr.
philosophy, does not occur. The most plausible explanation is
that erotic love, whether it describes the relation of the sexes
or, as in Plato, the aspiration of the soul for the ideas, is the
love of the worthy, a love based on value. By contrast, God's
covenant love for His people (agape), which moved Him to provide
an atonement for sin, is a love for the unworthy. Even when His
people, like an unfaithful wife, went whoring after other gods,
the Lord loved them still (Hos 11:8, 9). "In this is love," wrote
John, "not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his
Son to be the expiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). This "love
divine, all loves excelling" cannot be frustrated at last; it is
a love, says Paul, from which nothing can separate us (Rom 8:38,
39). The reason for this is that this love is not dependent upon
anything in man; it is a love which is sovereign and free.

b. Its nature. If love is the reason for the Atonement, one may
still ask why love should have taken this mode of fulfilling its
urgent purpose. In answer to this question, the ancient fathers
of the Church placed great stress on a saying of Jesus recorded
in Mark 10:45 and Matthew 20:28. "For the Son of man also came
not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom
(lutron) for many." To ransom someone means to redeem him by
purchasing his release through the payment of a price. It was
assumed that Christ gave His soul, in lieu of man's, to the devil
and paid the ransom price of the delivery from his powers. The
theory was that since the first parents had sold their souls to
the devil, he had a legal claim over men, which God, in justice,
must satisfy. Hence, Jesus gave His soul as the ransom price for
man's release and "descended into hell," as the Apostles' Creed
says. But having kept His bargain, it was impossible for Satan to
hold Him in hell. The third day He rose in triumph, taking with
Him all whom He had redeemed.

Of course Jesus did not say that He came to give His life a
ransom to the devil, and nowhere does the NT, in elaborating this
redemption motif, make such an affirmation. It is true that the
concept of ransom presupposes bondage, the need of release, and
the payment of a price to obtain this release. But the primary
emphasis of Scripture is upon what men are redeemed from, rather
than to whom the ransom is paid. The overall implication of
Scripture is that Christ's atoning work finds its ultimate
objective in God; it is God who is reconciled. It is most
natural, when thinking of Christ's death as a ransom, to assume
that the payment is to God in the sense that men owe Him an
uncompromised obedience, a debt which sinners cannot render, but
one which is paid by Christ on man's behalf, through His own
obedience unto death "even death on a cross" (Phil 2:8).

Though Scripture does not spell out a "ransom-paid-to-the-devil"
theory, it does teach that the redeemed are safe from the power
of the devil; this is the truth contained in the ancient or
"classic view" of the Atonement as Christus Victor. The devil has
sinners under his power; as a cruel taskmaster he drives them to
sin. But Christ by His death redeemed man from this thralldom.
(Note Bunyan's theological exactitude in the Holy War, in
describing how Diabolus began to tremble at the prospect of
Emmanuel's imminent victory and clandestinely stole out to the
gate of the city by night to hold a colloquy with the Prince. His
claim to a right over the city of Mansoul was repudiated, and his
effort to strike a bargain rebuffed. He was denounced as a
usurper and forced to abdicate.) Hebrews 2:14 says that Christ
partook of mankind's flesh and blood, that through death He might
destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil. Paul
referred to the triumph which Christ obtained over principalities
and powers at the cross, making an open display of them (Col

The question concerning why God's love expresses itself by way of
atonement, which the ancient Fathers answered in terms of the
ransom theory, was deeply probed by Anselm of Canterbury (late
11th, early 12th cent.) in his classic work Cur Deus Homo. His
answer was that though prompted by His love to redeem us, God
must do so in a manner consistent with His justice. The necessity
of the Atonement, then, is an inference from the character of
God. Sin is a revolt against God, and He must inevitably react
against it with wrath. Sin really creates an awful liability and
the inexorable demands of the divine justice must be met. The
truth that God is love does not stand alone in the Bible. The God
of the Bible keeps wrath for His enemies (Nah 1:2); he is "of
purer eyes than to behold evil" (Hab 1:13). The God of Jesus is
to be feared as one "who can destroy both soul and body in hell"
(Matt 10:28). "The wrath of God," wrote Paul, "is revealed from
heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men" (Rom 1:18).

Therefore the death of Christ is the way in which God shows that
He is righteous in forgiving sins and justifying him who has
faith in Jesus (Rom 3:24-26). God justly demands satisfaction for
one's sins, and since by Christ's death satisfaction is given,
the sinner is forgiven and the punishment remitted. The essence
of Anselm's theory of the Atonement, vicarious or substitutionary
satisfaction, is the theory which has dominated the orthodox

The basic objections to this view drive one back to a kind of
theological watershed, and it would take one far beyond the scope
of this article to explore all aspects of the question. For one,
it is argued that the idea of satisfaction is inimical to the
fundamental insight that God is love, a sort of vestigial remnant
from the imperfect view of the angry Deity portrayed in the OT.
Furthermore, it is alleged, the notion of vicarious suffering is
unethical. How could someone else merit the divine favor for men?
Anselm, it must be said, never contemplated these questions
seriously. For him it was assumed, on the basis of Scripture,
that the character of God requires atonement. As for vicarious
atonement, he reasoned that only the God-man could render such
atonement, since it is man who has offended and God against whom
the offense was directed.

In the last analysis, the question is whether one believes the
fundamental thought forms of Scripture to be a permanent and
final revelation. For all the limitations in Anselm's
formulation, it appears to this writer that he grasped an
essential aspect of the teaching of Scripture. According to
Isaiah 53, the Suffering Servant was wounded for our
transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the
chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we
are healed. In the same vein is Paul's affirmation that He "who
knew no sin" was made sin for us, "that we might be made the
righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor 5:21 KJV). Christ was not
made a sinner in the sense of being inwardly polluted. Rather He
was reckoned a sinner; man's sin was imputed to Him, even as His
righteousness was imputed to men. In Himself He bore the
condemnation of sin so that to those who are in Christ Jesus
there is now no condemnation (Rom 8:1). He was made "a curse for
us," in order to make man the righteousness of God in Him (Gal
3:13). Christ rendered a vicarious satisfaction for sin. It was
not by substituting something in the place of the penalty, but
rather by a vicarious enduring of the penalty. This is the
essential point in Anselm's theory.

It should be noted that Anselm conceived of the satisfaction
rendered by Christ solely in terms of His death; Calvary was the
one great supererogatory act of history which relieved God of any
necessity to punish the sinner. It is true that Scripture places
the emphasis on Christ's death, but it should not be overlooked
that His death, according to Scripture, is the climax of His life
of perfect obedience. "He ... became obedient unto death, even
death on a cross" (Phil 2:8). "Although he was a Son, he learned
obedience through what he suffered" (Heb 5:8). In Romans 5:12-19
there is an express reference to Christ's one act of obedience,
in contrast to the disobedience of the first Adam, an act of
obedience by which the many are made righteous. And so Christ
becomes the perfect High Priest, having not only removed the
sanction of the broken law by being made a curse, but also having
fulfilled the requirements of the law by His sinless life, thus
achieving a perfect righteousness.

A third theory of the Atonement, sometimes referred to as the
"moral influence theory," has its roots in the teaching of
Abelard (1079-1142) and its flower in Protestant liberalism.
According to this view, the basic meaning of atonement is what
Schleiermacher has called "moral uplift," a new attitude toward
life. There is no objective enmity on God's part; Christ's death
has nothing to do with atonement in the sense of removal of
divine alienation. Rather, Christ's faithfulness, even unto
death, revealed the divine love and dissipated man's mistrust of
God which is based on a misunderstanding of God's character. Thus
men are justified by Christ's death, in the sense that through
Calvary love is stirred up in men's hearts and they are led to
repent of their sins.

Judged by the teaching of Scripture, this view is defective and
inadequate; the very essence of the doctrine of the Atonement is
lost. Yet there is an essential element of truth, for the death
of Christ has a profound influence on the beneficiaries. Because
God is reconciled to the sinner in Christ, men are admonished to
be reconciled to God. The Christian response to the death of
Christ is to "rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have now received our reconciliation" (cf. Rom
5:8-11). Hence Paul can describe his work in the beautiful figure
of a ministry of reconciliation. As an ambassador of Christ who
had been entrusted with the message of reconciliation, he
besought all men, on behalf of Christ, to be reconciled to God (2
Cor 5:18-21). If the Atonement is to become a personal reality in
the individual life, there must be this radical, inward change,
the response of love to love on the part of the sinner.

c. Its perfection. There are many aspects of the Biblical
doctrine of the Atonement which may be included under this
heading. Historically Roman Catholics and Protestants have been
divided over the need of rendering a temporal satisfaction for
post-baptismal sins, the former teaching that such satisfaction
is rendered either in penance or purgatory. Protestants believe
that Christ has rendered a full and complete satisfaction for all
sins, so that such a teaching impinges the perfection of Christ's
atoning work. Protestants have also urged the perfection of
Christ's work against the sacrament of the mass which is
allegedly a real, though not literal, reiteration of the
sacrifice of Calvary. While they believe that the efficacy of
Christ's atonement is continuously applied throughout the
centuries, they do not believe that it is possible to enhance its
efficacy by a constant repetition. In fact, the writer of Hebrews
scores the inadequacy of the older order in that the sacrifices
of the Aaronic priesthood had constantly to be repeated, bringing
no final solution to the sin problem. But now Christ has once and
for all put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and by this one
offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified (Heb
9:26; 10:14).

Speaking of the perfection of the Atonement, a word should be
said about divine healing. Healing is commonly associated with
faith, but ultimately it has to do with the Atonement. "Faith
healing" presupposes that in the Atonement our Lord contemplated
the body as well as the soul. So those who stress healing of the
body, if they spell out their doctrine beyond a general faith in
God, would say that the faith which heals is a faith in the
Savior who Himself "took our infirmities and bore our diseases"
(Matt 8:17). Not to trust Christ for deliverance from the
afflictions of the body, as well as the sins of the soul, is to
impugn the perfection of His atoning work. Evangelicals have
never doubted the efficacy of the Atonement for the whole man,
affirming the resurrection of the body, so that Christ's death
becomes the "death of deaths," for all who die in Him. But the
obvious fact that all men die in a physical way, even those who
proclaim faith healing, has lead the Church as a whole to
conclude that the redemptive benefits of the Atonement, as far as
the body is concerned, must await the eschaton, when there shall
be no more curse, neither sorrow nor crying nor any such thing
(Rev 21:4).

d. Its extent. Perhaps the most discussed aspect of the Atonement
today is its extent, which is also an aspect of its perfection.
In the older Calvinistic-Arminian debate this question eventuated
ultimately in the same result. Not all men are finally redeemed
by Christ's death, but only those who believe (Arminians), who
are the elect of God (Calvinists). For those who die outside of
Christ, there is only eternal separation from God.

In contemporary theology there has been much emphasis placed on
the universal or cosmic scope of the Atonement, and in many
instances this universalism advocates in a forthright manner the
restitution of every fallen, alienated creature to the fellowship
of God. Unlike the older universalism which made all religions
equally valid efforts to have fellowship with God, the new
universalism is confessedly Christian; men are reconciled to God
only by Christ. But all men are reconciled, and sooner or later
they will be made to realize it. He is the Lamb of God who takes
away the sin of the world (John 1:29); God was in Christ
reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Cor 5:19); in Christ shall
all be made alive (1 Cor 15:22); for He is the propitiation for
the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). This strand of
universalism is stressed as pointing to the time of the
restitution of all things (apokatastasis) of which Peter spoke in
the first Christian sermon (Acts 3:21). It is sometimes admitted
that all men do not depart this life reconciled to God. But
eventually they will be, it is averred, even though the
reconciliation be delayed until they are "deep in eternity."
However there is no clear warranty in Scripture for this
affirmation. In fact the uniform thrust of Scripture, for those
who have come under the shadow of the cross, is that "now is the
acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor
6:2). As for those who have not heard, they are described by Paul
as "having no hope and without God in the world" (Eph 2:12).
Unless one is ready, therefore, rather radically to amend the
apostolic tradition and eliminate hell, it would seem that one
must not press the universal language of Scripture absolutely.
While one could desire that the Atonement should embrace all men
absolutely, it would appear that in the minds of the writers of
Scripture the Atonement is universal in the sense that men from
every nation, tribe, people, and tongue shall one day stand
before the Lamb clothed in white with palms of victory in their
hands (Rev 7:9). It is in this sense, then, that one should
conceive the perfection of Christ's atoning work. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY. G. Aulen, Christus Victor (1951); J. Denney, The
Death of Christ (1951); L. Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the
Cross (1955); G. C. Berkouwer, The Work of Christ (1965).

ATONEMENT, DAY OF (Heb. (Heb.) [the] day of covering or
propitiation [Lev 23:27, 28; 25:9]; LXX  Greek [Lev 23:27, 28];   
[25:9]). The chief annual fast day in Judaism on the tenth day of
the seventh month, Tishri. The ritual is detailed in Leviticus
16. On this day, when the Temple or Tabernacle still existed, the
high priest entered the Holy of Holies to atone for the sins of
Israel. Now it is called Yom Kippur. The NT refers to it as
(Greek) (Greek) "the fast" in Acts 27:9. Philo designated it "the
feast of the fast," and the Mishna called it simply "the Day" or
"the Great Day."

1. Relevant passages. The main passages dealing with this annual
fast, with the legal enactments involved, are found in: (1)
Leviticus 16, the central passage; (2) Exodus 30:10, which refers
to making atonement annually on the horns of the altar of
incense; (3) Leviticus 23:26-32, in the list of annual feasts,
where the date is mentioned, is ordered a holy convocation at the
sanctuary, the fasting, an offering by fire, and rest from work;
(4) Leviticus 25:9, which says the Year of Jubilee was to
commence on this day; (5) Numbers 18, where duties and privileges
of priests and Levites are given; (6) Numbers 29:7-11, which
gives laws connected with the sacrifices, fact of a holy
convocation, fasting, rest from labor, the sacrifices of sin
offering, burnt offerings, meal offerings, and drink offerings;
(7) Ezekiel 45:18 ff., which presents a number of regulations for
the festivals of Israel and the sacrifices.

2. The occasion for the day. The death of Nadab and Abihu (Lev
l0:lff.) is said to be the occasion for the Day of Atonement in
order to emphasize God's holiness which they had transgressed.
Jubilees 34:17 connects the institution of the day with Jacob's
mourning for Joseph (Gen 37:29ff.). Those committed to the
critical school of OT interpretation find the setting for the day
in Ezekiel 40-48. It is important to recall that the Year of
Jubilee began on the Day of Atonement (Lev 25:9). There are those
who suggest that the Day of Atonement (ch. 16) was the conclusion
of several New Year observances. The critical opinion is that it
is a composite record. T. K. Cheyne (EB, 1, 383-389) connects ch.
16 with ch. 10 (with no explanation how the intervening chs. came
to be interposed in the text) and concludes that the regulations
of the day are the outcome of an interesting development. With
others, he holds that Ezekiel's directions are prior to those of
ch. 16. It should be pointed out that the atonement for the
Temple occurs on the first day of the first month and on the
first day of the seventh month (Ezek 45, LXX for vv. 18-20), but
no reference whatever is made there to atonement for sins. This
is remarkable, indeed, that in the prophetic (some hold it may be
symbolical) portrayal of Ezekiel's Temple, no mention of the Day
of Atonement occurs.

- Keith Hunt)

3. The purpose of the day. The ritual of the day had in view one
goal: to avert the wrath of God for the sins of the past year and
to insure His continued dwelling among them. The shedding of
blood and the sending off of the scapegoat were meant to cleanse
the nation, the priesthood, and the sanctuary from sin. The
entire meaning of the sacrificial system reached its climax, and
the day has been well called the "Good Friday of the OT."
This day was observed to remind Israel that in spite of all the
daily, weekly, and monthly (on the new moon) sacrifices, sin was
not fully atoned for. Always the offerer stood at a distance from
God, unable to enter the holy presence of God, typified by the
Shekinah cloud over the mercy seat. On this day the high priest
was allowed by God to enter the Holy of Holies with blood as a
representative of the people.

The basic principle underlying the Day of Atonement is that the
offerings for sin throughout the year could not provide for or
cover unknown ("secret") sins. Nevertheless, by these sins the
sanctuary, the people, and the land were all rendered unclean.
God could not be honored as He deserved under such circumstances.
The Day oÇ Atonement was instituted for the accomplishment
annually of a complete atonement for all sin (Lev 16:33). The
whole priestly legislation was given its highest expression:
God's holiness was recognized and satisfied by sacrifice. All the
ceremonies and rituals of the day were meant to symbolize, as far
as possible, a complete atonement for sin and the utter removal
of the cause of God's displeasure. The Day of Atonement marked
the highest exhibition of the mediatorial work of the high
priest. In him all the people had access into the presence of

According to later Jewish theology, on New Year's day God
determined the fate of every man on earth and on the Day of
Atonement He sealed the decree. The intervening ten days of
penitence (actually counting from the first of Tishri through the
tenth of the month) were observed in order to avert an
unfavorable decree. Only unintentional sins were in view (4:2,
13; Num 15:24), as declared by Yoma 8:9 (the Mishnaic tractate on
the Day of Atonement) : "He who says, I will sin, the Day atones;
to him the Day will bring no atonement" (cf. Heb 9:7, "errors").

(This was later Jewish theology which was derived from Babylon
captivity as the pagan Babylonians had a so-called "10 days of
awe" - I explain this in other studies on this Feast day - Keith

4. The importance of the day. The Day of Atonement is the only
fast day stipulated in the Mosaic law. In the couple of centuries
before the advent of Christianity, it played a significant role
in Judaism. References to it in the Mishnaic Tractate Yoma and in
other Jewish sources leave no doubt in the matter. Conceptually,
the Crucifixion accounts of the NT and the entire Epistle to the
Hebrews, with Paul's letters, are directly related to it. The Day
of Atonement was so central and vital to Judaism that it has
outlived the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 and the loss of
the entire sacrificial system. The observance actually manifested
that Israel believed the cleansing of their sins was accomplished
by the prescribed rites given by God, and that the forgiveness
and grace of God were extended to them and formed the basis for
their continuance in fellowship with Him as His covenant people.
On their part, it demonstrated godly sorrow for their sins
(indicated by their fasting). It realized the purification of the
sanctuary defiled by the sins of Israel. Atonement was made for
all the transgressions of the congregation. The consciousness of
sin in Israel was deepened through the exercises of the day. God
was propitiated for the year just past.

The day is not without spiritual significance and instruction for
the Christian today. The more one compares the rituals of this
day with what was accomplished perfectly by Christ on Calvary,
the more the conviction is confirmed that all the rites of the
Day of Atonement, and all the religious appointments in Israel,
were only shadows preparing for the coming of finality in Christ
(Heb 9:24; 10:1)

5. The day as a fast. Practically all, with but few exceptions,
have taken the words of Leviticus 16:29 to indicate the day as a
fast. "And it shall be a statute to you for ever that in the
seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict
yourselves, and shall do no work, either the native or the
stranger who sojourns among you" (cf. also 23:27, 29; Num 29:7).
It is also described as a "sabbath of solemn rest" (Lev 16:31;
23:32), literally, "a sabbath of sabbatism," "a most solemn
sabbath," or a Sabbath of sabbatical observance when no work was
allowed (Num 29:7).

6. Contents of Leviticus 16. Basic to a proper understanding of
the day is a close scrutiny of the details (Lev 16). The ch. may
be divided into four sections: (1) vv. I-10: personal
preparations by Aaron for the rites of the day; the animals for
sacrifice; the clothing and bathing of Aaron; (2) vv. 11-24: the
ceremonies described in detail; (3) vv. 25-28: additional
concluding directions for the ceremonies of the day; (4) vv.
29-34: directions for the congregation. The contents of these
sections are so clearly interwoven and interdependent that the
views which attribute the ch. to various sources cannot be
substantiated. The day is from the ninth of Tishri at sunset and
lasts until the evening of the tenth (23:32). Fasting includes no
eating, drinking, washing, anointing, putting on footwear, and
marital intercourse (Yoma 8:1). Children and the sick always have
been exempt from the fast.

(Some of that is Jewish traditions, which have no bearing on
Scripture, except for no food or drinking, and the exempt of very
young children and the sick - Keith Hunt)

Because the high priest was the central personality throughout
the ceremonies, he took up residence in the Temple seven days
before the festival (Yoma 1:1). He rehearsed the ceremonies he
was to perform. On the eve of the day he kept an all night vigil.
In fact, men were esp. delegated to keep him awake. After bathing
(Lev 16:4) and offering the burnt offering in the morning (Num
29:8-11), he donned white linen (Lev 16:4) and was prepared to
conduct the rites. These rites consisted of (1) the sacrifice for
the priests, (2) the sacrifice for the people, and (3) the
scapegoat ritual. With the blood of the bullock (the sin
offering) and with incense, the high priest entered the holiest
(16:12-14). After filling the compartment with a cloud of
incense, he left to pray and again entered the Holy of Holies (in
a second stage of the ceremonies) to sprinkle blood on the
propitiatory for the sins of the priests.

The sacrifice for the nation was a goat chosen by lot from two
identical animals. This goat was slain and its blood sprinkled on
the Ark seven times. The veil and the horns of the altar of
incense were also sprinkled. The live goat, designated as "for
Azazel" (16:8, 10, 26) as the first had been "for the Lord," was
taken by the high priest, who laid his hands on it, confessed the
sins of the people, and then committed it to one esp. appointed
to lead it away into the desert amid the jeering and imprecations
of the people. After this the high priest put off his garments
and put on his usual apparel to offer burnt offerings with the
fat of the slain bullock and goat (16:24). The remains were
carried outside the camp and burned. The people rejoiced and
danced at sunset.

The rabbis claimed the high priest sprinkled blood forty-three
times on this day. The Mishnah indicates that whenever the high
priest pronounced the ineffable divine name (YHWH), the
congregation prostrated themselves and cried: "Blessed be the
name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever." At the
conclusion of the ceremonies of the day, so great was the relief
of the people that they accompanied the high priest to his home
where he entertained them at a feast. The people in general gave
themselves to rejoicing; the young men and maidens danced in the
vineyards (Ta'anit iv. 8).

Today no sacrifices are offered, but the day is observed by
abstaining from labor, by prayers, fasting, and multiplied
confessions. The services are begun with the blowing of the ram's
horn (as though to direct God's attention to the willingness of
Abraham to offer Isaac according to the will of God; Gen 22) and
the recital of the solemn prayer called Kol Nidre ("All vows").
It is prob. from the Middle Ages, and in it the worshipers
petition God to forgive them for breaking vows they could not
fulfill. Worship services are conducted the next day from early
morning until sunset, when a blast of the ram's horn concludes
the ceremonies of the day.

(Jewish traditions - Keith Hunt)

8. The silence of the historical books. Those who have studied
the subject carefully have pointed out some problems connected
with the Day of Atonement. Why, in view of all the elaborate
injunctions for this day in Aaron's lifetime, is there so little
evidence that it was observed in Israel's later history? Why are
the historical books silent on the subject? Although critical
sources seek to relate Ezekiel 45 to Leviticus 16, the
correlation is artificial and strikingly unconvincing.
Differences between the two accounts are patent. Why is the Day
of Atonement so inexplicably omitted in Nehemiah 8? The
Wellhausenists conclude that all the legislation in the
Pentateuch concerning this day belongs to postexilic times, so
that the Day of Atonement was introduced in Israel shortly after
the middle of the 5th cent. B.C. The background of the feast is
supposed to be found in Ezekiel 45 and the postexilic portions in
Zechariah 7:5 and 8:19. It must be clearly understood that in the
days after the 5th cent. B.C. there is no more mention of the Day
of Atonement than previously. All that can be pointed to is
Sirach 50:5ff. RSV (an evident reference to the observance), then
Philo, and finally the Epistle to the Hebrews (6:19; 9:7, 13ff.;
l0:lff.). In all probability, Acts 27:9 is a reference to the
day. Care must be exercised always in dealing with an argument
from silence.

9. Historicity of the day. It is an impossible task to excise,
stylistically or logically, Leviticus 16 from its fundamental
place in the scheme of the Book of Leviticus or from the entire
priestly system in Israel for that matter. Furthermore, it is
both hopeless and useless to seek to dismember the closely knit
and logically presented stipulations and rites of Leviticus 16. A
historical difficulty of insurmountable proportions is this: if
the Ark of the covenant no longer existed after the Exile, and
the prediction of Jeremiah 3:16 led Israel to expect no
restoration or recovery of the same, how could the Day of
Atonement have been inaugurated at that late date when its entire
efficacy and worth were linked inseparably with that Ark?
Furthermore, since Ezekiel and his appointments are related to a
distant future (a view which has much to commend it), the
argument based on his regulations (which, it can be readily
verified, differ widely from those of the Pentateuchal
legislation) is pointless when it aims to credit him with
influencing the legislation in Leviticus 16.

10. NT references. The reference to the fast in Acts 27:9 is
understood generally to point to the Day of Atonement, because it
is the only one mentioned in the Mosaic law. Even a cursory
reading of the Epistle to the Hebrews will disclose that it moves
in the atmosphere and ritual of the OT sacrificial system and, in
particular, of the Day of Atonement. The aim of the sacred writer
is unequivocal: it is to demonstrate the fulfilling finality of
the central event of the Scriptures, the atonement of Christ on

Hebrews explains the ritual of the day as a type of the atonement
accomplished by Christ (Heb 9 and 10). The High Priest is the
Lord Christ. The blood is His blood shed on Calvary. As the high
priest of the OT entered the holiest of all with the blood of
sacrifice, the unmistakable evidence of forfeiture of life, so
Christ has entered into heaven to appear before the Father in our
behalf (Heb 9:11, 12). It is emphasized that the entrance of the
high priest into the most holy, with blood, typified the
appearance of Christ in heaven for us when He had purchased
redemption for us (9:24-28).

The fact that the same sacrifices had to be repeated each year
spoke clearly and conclusively that final atonement had not yet
been achieved. Christ provided eternal redemption for the world
(9:12). The OT offerings served only to bring about a temporary
and outward ceremonial cleansing; Christ's one sacrifice
adequately provided inward cleansing of heart and conscience
(9:13, 14). Whereas the ordinary Israelite could not enter the
innermost sanctuary, and only the high priest was permitted to do
so one day annually, the believer today has constant access
through grace to the very presence of the holy God (4:14-16;
10:19-22). The ceremonies of the day formally closed when the sin
offering was burned outside the camp of Israel; Jesus suffered
outside the gate of Jerusalem when He bore our reproach (13:11,

BIBLIOGRAPHY. J. C. Rylaarsdam, IDS, 1, 313-316; T. K. Cheyne,
EB, I, 383-389; W. Moeller, ISBE, I, 324-328; Theological
Dictionary of NT, IV, 924-935 (esp. 927-931); M. L. Margolis, Jew
Enc, 11, 284-289; A. Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and
Services (1874), 263-288; I. Abrahams, "High Priest's Procession
on the Day of Atonement," JQR, 4 (1905), 17:586; L. Belleli,
"High Priest's Procession on the Day of Atonement," JQR 3 (1905),
17:584; S. Talmon, "Yom Hakkippurim in the Habakkuk Scroll,"
Bibliographical Footnotes, Biblica (Nov. 1951), 32: 549-563; L.
L. Morris, "Day of Atonement and the Work of Christ," Reformed
Theological Review (Feb. 1955), 14:9, 10; F. H. Woods, HERE (1960
ed.), V, 863-867; R. L. Rubinstein, "Atonement and Sacrifice in
Contemporary Jewish Liturgy," Judaism (Spring 1962), 11:131-143;
J. Morgenstern, "Fire Upon the Altar Once Again," Encounter
(Spring 1965), 26:215-224; H. Cohen, "Day of Atonement," I.,
Judaism (Summer 1968), 17:352-357; H. Cohen, "Day of Atonement,"
11, III, Judaism (Winter-Spring 1969), 18:84-90, 21622.


The writer does not understand the meaning of the SECOND goat.

That goat was respresentative of Satan the Devil, who has part in
the world sins. His part in sins is finally place back on his
head and his punishment for 1,000 years is to be cast into the
wilderness of the bottomless pit as the book of Revelation tells
us. There he will deceived the nations no more for the age to
come of 1,000 years. All explained in other studies on this
website, under the subjects of the Feast Day of Atonement.

Keith Hunt

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