by George Sidney Hurd
Christ’s atoning death upon the cross, in which He bore the just penalty for our sins as our substitute, has always been central to the historic Christian faith.  However, in recent times this doctrine has come under severe attack from both Liberals and Progressives who often portray Penal Substitutionary Atonement as if it were a barbaric form of “cosmic child abuse” by an angry and vengeful father driven by a relentless bloodlust. In the place of Christ’s substitutionary death, they present atonement theories which would better describe the results of Christ’s death on the cross, rather than what He actually accomplished at Calvary when He bore our sins on the tree (1Peter 2:24).
This omission of the penal substitutionary nature of Christ’s death, in which He bore our sins, is facilitated in the English language by the conflation of two distinct words (expiation and reconciliation) into the single word “atonement.” The word “atonement” is a 16th century invention, meaning “at-one-ment” and is synonymous with reconciliation. In fact, when William Tyndale produced the first English translation of the New Testament from the Greek in 1526, he often rendered the Greek word for reconciliation (καταλλαγή, katallagē) and its cognates as “atonement” rather than “reconciliation.” 
However, the actual work of Christ on the cross as the sin-bearing Servant is expressed in Scripture using the Hebrew word kippur and its cognates. When kippur is used in the context of Levitical sacrifices it refers to the expiation or removal of sin by a substitutionary sacrifice. The equivalent for kippur used in the Greek LXX is ἱλασμός (hilasmos) and its cognates, which translate as, “propitiation, appeasement or satisfaction.” Christ’s substitutionary death reconciled the world unto God, but that reconciliation was not accomplished apart from Christ’s blood first having been shed in order to make expiation or propitiation for our sins (Rom 3:25; Heb 2:17; 1Jn 2:2; 4:10).
Without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sins, and without a previous remission of sins there can be no reconciliation, since the wrath of God is against all ungodliness and He will by no means acquit the guilty (Heb. 9:22; Lev. 17:11; Rom 1:18; Ex 34:7). Since life is in the blood, without the shedding of the innocent blood of the Lamb as our substitute there could have been no remission of sins, since it is the blood which makes expiation (kaphar) for the soul (Lev 17:11). We were reconciled unto God by nothing less than the blood of His cross (Col 1:20).
It is more difficult to present reconciliation as being possible without a previous expiation for sins in other languages, since only in English do they conflate these two distinct concepts of expiation and reconciliation into the single word “atonement.” All Spanish versions correctly render kippur as expiación and katallagē as reconciliación, as also do the French versions. Likewise, in German kippur is rendered sühne, and katallagē versöhnung, thereby maintaining a clear distinction between expiation for sins and its resulting reconciliation.
As we will see in a subsequent article, nearly all of the atonement theories formulated throughout history contain truth in the larger sense of atonement. However, since none of those accomplishments would have been possible without Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice in which He took away our sins, His expiation of our sins is the very fountainhead from which all other benefits flow. William Lane Craig, in his book Atonement and the Death of Christ, aptly describes the atonement in the broader sense of the word as a multifaceted gem, the table of which is Christ’s substitutionary death for the sins of the world.
Christ fulfilled the Yom Kippur Sacrifice for Sins
Throughout the New Testament, especially in the book of Hebrews, the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross is seen to have been the fulfillment of that which had been foreshadowed in the Levitical ceremony of Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement (Expiation), on the 10th of Tishrei, the first month of the Hebrew calendar.
Once a year on Yom Kippur, the high priest would take two male goats from the children of Israel to make expiation for their sins. The first goat was killed and it’s blood was taken through the veil into the Most Holy Place and sprinkled on the mercy seat to expiate or make propitiation for all their sins (Lev 16:15-16). Its body was then burned outside the camp (Lev 16:27). The High Priest then placed his hands upon the live goat, confessing over it all the iniquities, transgressions and sins of the people, placing them all upon the head of the goat (Lev 16:21). Then the scapegoat was taken far into the wilderness, bearing upon itself all the iniquities of the people (Lev 16:20-22). In this manner, the children of Israel were cleansed from all their sins before the Lord for another year (Lev 16:30).
As is typified in the scapegoat, Peter said of Christ: “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree...by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Here Peter also cites from Isaiah 53, which speaks of Christ as the substitutionary sin bearing servant, saying that “the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” and “for He shall bear their iniquities” (Isa 53:6;11). Also, Paul alludes to this when he says: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21).
In the book of Hebrews we see that Christ also fulfilled that which was foreshadowed in the sacrificial goat whose blood was shed and taken within the veil into the Most Holy Place where it was sprinkled upon the mercy seat, making expiation or propitiation for the sins of the people. Christ is seen to not only be the fulfillment of that which was prefigured in the male goat that was sacrificed for the people, but He also represented us as our High Priest before God.
I would recommend one reading through the entire book of Hebrews in one sitting in order to get the full picture, but here I will just quote a few verses which clearly present Christ as bearing our sins and by His own shed blood obtaining the remission of our sins once and for all.
“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. 12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Heb 9:11-12)
“And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. 14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified... 18 Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.” (Heb 10:11-14,18)
Here we see that Christ presented His own blood in the Most Holy Place in the heavenly tabernacle, of which the earthly tabernacle was only a type and shadow. Also, we see that the daily and annual sacrifices could not in themselves take away sins. Rather they pointed forward to the time when Christ would offer Himself once and for all, perfecting for all time those who are sanctified and justified through faith in His blood-offering for their sins (1Cor 6:11, cf. Rom 3:25).
Also, the author of Hebrews points out that the sacrificial animal’s dead body being taken outside the camp and burned, foreshadows Christ’s having suffered as our substitute outside the gate of Jerusalem:
“For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.” (Hebrews 13:11-12)
We also see Jesus emphasizing this two-fold substitutionary nature of His suffering and death in the Last Supper. He said:
“And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for (ὑπέρ, huper) you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 20 Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for (huper) you.” (Luke 22:19-20).
Here we see that, not only was His blood shed in our stead for the remission of our sins, but also the suffering He underwent in His body was for (huper) us. The preposition huper in this context speaks of substitution, “instead of” (cf. 1Cor 15:29; 2Cor 5:15; 2Cor 5:21; Gal 3:13; Philemon 1:13).
The timing in which Jesus spoke these words is also significant. He repeatedly said that His hour had not yet come until it was the time of the Passover. That is when He cried out saying, “Father, save Me from this hour? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” (Jn 12:27). As the substitutionary Passover Lamb of God, He took away the sins of the world by shedding His blood for the remission of our sins (Jn 1:29; Rev 5:9; Matt 26:28). As Paul declares, “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Cor 5:7).
Many today reject the idea that blood had to be shed in order for God to forgive sins. In a later blog I will answer some of the moral and logical objections to Christ’s Penal Substitutionary Atonement. For the moment, I just want to demonstrate that it is indispensable to any biblical understanding of the atonement. The Scriptures are abundantly clear in stating that without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sins before God, and for that reason He, out of His great love for us, sent His Son to be the propitiation/expiation for our sins (Heb 9:22; Matt 26:28; 1Jn 4:10).
The reason why the blood of a substitute was required is seen from the very beginning when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden. God forbade them to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and warned them saying: “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” However, while they did die spiritually that same day, they didn’t die physically, but continued living in their bodies for nearly another thousand years. How could God be just and remain true to His word without them dying that same day as He said they would? This is where we see the first substitutionary blood sacrifice. On the very day that they disobeyed and ate of the tree, the blood of an animal had to be shed in order for God to make animal skins to cover their nakedness (Gen 3:21). This foreshadowed Christ’s own substitutionary sacrifice of Himself in order that we may be clothed with His own righteousness (Gal 3:27; 2Cor 5:21; Php 3:9).
The reason why blood was required to make expiation for our sins is given in Leviticus:
“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement (kapar ‘expiation’) for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement (kapar, ‘expiation’) for the soul.” (Lev 17:11)
From the very beginning, the penalty for sin has been death (Gen 2:17; Rom 6:23). God says that “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezek 18:4). Furthermore, in Romans 1 Paul says that, while man may suppress the truth in their own unrighteousness, they intuitively know that those who practice sin are deserving of death (Rom 1:32). Since life is in the blood, and the penalty for sin is death, God’s own justice requires our lifeblood as the penalty for sin.
However, Paul tells us that, in God’s love and forbearance, He left sin unpunished until Christ should come to make propitiation/expiation for our sins through His own shed blood. He said of Christ:
“whom God set forth as a propitiation  by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:25-26)
The Scriptural revelation that we are justified by faith in Christ’s shed blood in propitiation for our sins, rather than it being by works of righteousness which we have done, has always been an offense to worldly wisdom and the religious mindset. As Paul said:
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God... 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness.” (1 Cor 1:18,23)
Many, like the unbelieving Jews of Paul’s day, ignore God’s gift of righteousness which is imputed to all those who simply believe in Christ’s finished work on the cross, seeking rather to establish their own righteousness under the guise of following Christ’s moral example (Rom 10:2-4; cf. Rom 4:5). Sadly, within the past 150 years many, even among those who believe in the final restoration of all, have abandoned the historic belief in Christ’s Penal Substitutionary Atonement for our justification through the influence of Liberal thinkers like George MacDonald and others of his day who considered the belief in Christ’s finished work on the cross to be foolishness and even a denial of Christ. MacDonald said concerning Christ’s finished work on the cross and the need to place faith in Christ’s atoning blood:
“- some of you say we must trust in the finished work of Christ; or again, our faith must be in the merits of Christ in the atonement he has made in the blood he has shed. All these statements are a simple repudiation of the living Lord, in whom we are told to believe, who, by his presence with and in us, and our obedience to him, lifts us out of darkness into light...” 
Many, under the influence of men like MacDonald, would even say that Christ’s death and shed blood was not necessary for our salvation, since, according to them, it isn’t the death of Christ that saves us but His life, as if we could have the latter without the former. In contrast to this, Peter said that we were redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, as a lamb without blemish or spot,” and warned that teachers would come among us even denying our Lord who bought us (1Pet 1:18-19; 2Pet 2:1). The author of Hebrews, after explaining in much detail how Christ’s blood made expiation for our sins, warned of the consequences of trampling underfoot the Son of God, counting the blood of the covenant by which we were sanctified as a common thing (Heb 10:29).
In conclusion, we have seen that there can be no atonement without Christ’s Penal Substitutionary Expiation, shedding His blood for the forgiveness of our sins. All other theories of the atonement should actually be understood as resulting from Christ’s atoning sacrifice, rather than them being the atonement itself. Cristus Victor, Recapitulation, or Moral Example, would have not even been possible if He hadn’t first made propitiation for our sins before God by shedding His own blood on the cross.
In the next two blogs we will be examining the sin-bearing servant of Isaiah 53 which is applied to Christ by Jesus Himself, as well as other New Testament authors. As we shall see, Isaiah 53 clearly uses the language of Penal Substitutionary Atonement.
 In the following article I demonstrate that the belief in Christ’s Penal Substitutionary Atonement was universally affirmed by the Church Fathers: https://www.triumphofmercy.com/blog/the-early-fathers-and-the-penal-substitutionary-atonement
 The Tyndale version of 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 reads: “Neverthelesse all thinges are of god which hath reconciled (καταλλάσσω) vs vnto him sylfe by Iesus Christ and hath geven vnto vs the office to preach the atonement (καταλλαγή).19 For god was in Christ and made agrement bitwene (καταλλάσσω) the worlde and hym sylfe and imputed not their synnes vnto them: and hath committed to vs the preachynge of the atonement (καταλλαγή).”
 The word used here is ἱλαστήριον which is used to refer to the mercy seat where the blood was sprinkled to make expiation for the sins of the people. Here is an example where ἱλαστήριον is used as an adjective, meaning “a propitiatory/expiatory offering” (see Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament, commenting on Romans 3:25).
 MacDonald, George . Unspoken Sermons Series I, II, and III (p. 147).