A Brief Categorization of the Atonement


According to John Murray, there is no single specific category that the Scriptures use to summarize the full extent of the glory of the atonement. In the second chapter of his Work, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Dr. Murray postulates (in passing) that the varied aspects of Christ’s sacrifice can be described in the following categories in the Bible

  1. Sacrifice
  2. Propitiation
  3. Reconciliation
  4. Redemption

Word Study

It is a very interesting study to look at each one of these words to see their rich meaning. Combined, they present a very rich (though not exhaustive) view of Christ’s Death.


Sacrifice in the Old Testament

According to the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary:

To offer to God in homage or worship, by killing and consuming, as victims on an altar; to immolate, either as an atonement for sin, or to procure favor, or to express thankfulness…

According the ISBE, there are the following types of sacrifices in the Mosaic era:

  • The Burnt Offering (Leviticus 1:3-17)
  • The Meal Offering (Leviticus 2:1-16)
  • The Peace Offering (Leviticus 3:1-17)
  • The Sin Offering (Leviticus 4:1-35; 24-30, etc.)
  • The Guilt Offering (Leviticus 5:14-6:7)
  • Others – Wave, heave, drink

Wouldn’t it make an interesting study to research how the NT conveys that Christ is the fulfillment of each? He poured out Himself on our behalf, He is our Peace, He was made our sin offering, He bore our guilt, etc…

Sacrifice in the New Testament

  • And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. (Eph 5:2)
  • …but now once in the end of the world [ages] hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Heb 9:26)
  • But this man [Jesus], after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God (Heb 10:12)
  • For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us… (1 Cor 5:7)

Offerings are Sacrifices

Murray does not mention it, but in my mind, the term ‘offering’ is closely related to the term sacrifice (as we see in the following Old Testament ‘Offerings’)

  • By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Heb 10:10)
  • For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. (Heb 10:14)
  • So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many… (Heb 9:28)


Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines ‘propitiation as:

1. The act of appeasing wrath and conciliating the favor of an offended person; the act of making propitious.
2. In theology, the atonement or atoning sacrifice offered to God to assuage his wrath and render him propitious to sinners. Christ is the propitiation for the sins of men. Rom 3. 1 John 2.

  • Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth [to be] a propitiation… (Rom 3:25)
  • …he is the propitiation for our sins… (1 John 2:2)
  • God…loved us, and sent his Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

According to Strong, the Greek Word translated propitiation in 1 John is ἱλασμός:

hilasmós – properly, propitiation; an offering to appease (satisfy) an angry, offended party. ἱλασμός is only used twice (1 Jn 2:2, 4:10) – both times of Christ’s atoning blood that appeases God’s wrath…By the sacrifice of Himself, Jesus Christ provided the ultimate ἱλασμός (“propitiation”).

The word in Rom 3:25 is from the same root – ἱλαστήριον, which is used in the Greek Old Testament to translate the Hebrew word for “the covering of the ark, which was sprinkled with the atoning blood on the Day of Atonement” [Strongs]. According to LSJ, hilasterios is a propitiary gift and is the opposite of the word ‘anathema’ (curse).

Much more could obviously be said about these words.


According to Mr. Webster, reconciliation means:

1. The act of reconciling parties at variance; renewal of friendship after disagreement or enmity.

Reconciliation and friendship with God, really form the basis of all rational and true enjoyment.

2. In Scripture, the means by which sinners are reconciled and brought into a state of favor with God, after natural estrangement or enmity; the atonement; expiation.

  • when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. (Rom 5:10)
  • And all things [are] of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech [you] by us: we pray [you] in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.(1 Cor 5:18-20)
  • And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself…And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in [your] mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled (Col 1:20-21)


Again, a definition from Mr. Webster:

1. To purchase back; to ransom; to liberate or rescue from captivity or bondage, or from any obligation or liability to suffer or to be forfeited, by paying an equivalent; as, to redeem prisoners or captured goods; to redeem a pledge.

10. In theology, to rescue and deliver from the bondage of sin and the penalties of God’s violated law, by obedience and suffering in the place of the sinner, or by doing and suffering that which is accepted in lieu of the sinner’s obedience.

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us. Gal. 3. Titus 2.

  • Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom 3:24)
  • Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us… (Gal 3:13)
  • In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace (Eph 1:7)
  • In whom we have redemption through his blood, [even] the forgiveness of sins: (Col 1:14)
  • Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Tit 2:14)
  • …by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption [for us]. (Heb 9:12)
  • Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, [as] silver and gold, from your vain conversation [received] by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Pet 1:18-19)

Again, in my own thinking, I thought of a word not listed above, but probably covered by the idea of redemption: ‘ransom’.


A “ransom”, of course, is a price paid to purchase a slave or captive. If found the following definition from Wuest’s Word Studies on 1 Tim 2:6

The word “ransom” is antilutron, made up of anti and lutron. The latter was the common word used of the ransom of a slave or prisoner. anti was the preposition signifying substitution. Dana and Mantey, in their Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (p. 100), say that “there is conclusive proof that the dominant use for anti in the first century was instead of.” They quote Moulton and Milligan in Vocabulary of the Greek Testament as saying, “By far the commonest meaning of anti is the simple instead of.” Thus the antilutron is a payment given instead of the slave or prisoner, that is, in substitution for the slave or prisoner. The person holding the slave or prisoner is satisfied with the payment as a substitute for the slave he owns or the prisoner he holds.

  • “Who [Jesus] gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:6).
  • “…the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mt 20:28, Mark 10:45)


This is but a brief effort to understand the basic categories that describe the atonement. Obviously, much more could be said about all of these, but what I have here serves my purpose in thinking through, albeit not to any great depth, the meaning of each. Let us be thankful for the rich manifold grace of God and the many ways in which he magnified His grace through the Atonement of His Son, Our Lord. Lets be ever mindful of that as we study His Word.


3 thoughts on “A Brief Categorization of the Atonement

  1. Great post, very well written and good use of Webster’s…but I lament how fantastical theology seems. At times the academics seem to have built a theological system that rivals or surpasses Rome.

    • Thanks for the kind words.

      I lament how fantastical theology seems. At times the academics seem to have built a theological system that rivals or surpasses Rome.

      I *think* I know what you mean. If God intended for the Bible to be a systematic theology text, he would have given just that. On the other hand, there is a system to God’s dealing with men and we can apprehend it, in part, if we study.

      I am concerned about my own proclivity toward intellectual study. What is the solution? To be more experiential? That way is fraught with Romish danger as well, and perhaps worse. The medieval Romanists had not only the scholastics, but the monks and mystics, as well.

      I think systematic study is useful if it promotes piety and devotion. It is dangerous if it satisfies curiosity.

      What do you think?

  2. Pingback: The Obedience of Christ « Abraham's Seed

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