Atonement By Any Other Name

For yf when we were enemyes we were reconciled to God by the deeth of his sonne: moche more seinge we are reconciled we shal be preservid by his lyfe. Not only so but we also ioye in God by the meanes of oure Lorde Iesus Christ by whom we have receavyd the attonment.

- Romans 5:11 (Tyndale Bible, AD1526)

The Christian martyr, William Tyndale lived in the early 16th century. He died a horrible death for “heresy” after being betrayed by a dear friend. He was strangled and then burned at the stake. What was his crime? He translated the New Testament from the original Greek language into English for the very first time.

Despite the government’s disapproval and attempts to suppress it, the Tyndale Bible sold like hot cakes. Less than 100 years later, the Tyndale Bible became the foundation of the beautiful King James Bible published in 1611. Some of us are still familiar with the incredible prose of the King James Bible. Tyndale bears direct responsible for many of the turns of phrase and poetic arrangements of the Biblical text in English still found in our modern translations. For example, he invented the phraseology we find in Luke 22:62 (NIV), “And he went outside and wept bitterly.” What a gorgeously haunting phrase! 

Tyndale also is responsible for inventing the only theological term of English origin, “atonement.” He needed a word that would capture the sense of the Greek word which means “to be brought together again.” So he created a brand new word by pressing two other words together. “At onement” became “atonement.” The death of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection from the dead is our atonement. Because of the cross and empty tomb, we are “at one” with God again.

But no one word is sufficient to describe God’s atonement on the cross. Scripture uses metaphor after metaphor to paint a picture of what happened in that most incredible moment in history. The immense reality of Calvary stretches language far beyond the breaking point.

In our Gospel lesson Sunday we experienced the atonement in terms of our sense of smell. The cross and resurrection is like smelling an aroma that brings calm and relaxation. It’s the lavender candle, Grandma’s freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, and the smell of the oily hands of a loving hard-working father.

As you read through Scripture, listen for the atonement metaphors and let God use them to reveal to you the miracle of the atonement. Let them roll around in your mind and imagination. And then give thanks.


Father Kurt is the Pastor of Light of Christ Anglican Church in Georgetown, TX