What Is Atonement ?


What is Atonement ?  /  What is Propitiation ?


The words “propitiation” and “atonement” pretty much mean the same thing.  We’re going to explore the bible a bit, and see how God uses these words in His scriptures.  If you’re familiar with the bible, you may be familiar with the word “atonement”.  But I don’t know if even “bible people” are as familiar with the word “propitiation”.   Both words are used in the bible, and as I said, both have very similar meanings.  We can say this for sure; Both words, as used in the bible, REFER to the same thing.


old testamentIn the Old Testament, we find the word “atonement”  80 times, with 75 of those coming in the beginning of the bible, in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.  The word “atonement” is found only once in the New Testament, and that’s in  Romans 5:11.




It says in  Rom 5:11And not only this, but we also rejoice in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement”.

We see from this verse, that “the atonement”, is something that we receive “through” Jesus Christ.  Atonement is generally thought of as being “the forgiveness of sins”.

Eph 1:7   speaks of Jesus, and says,  In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace”. 

In this verse we can see how the word “redemption”, is used interchangeably with the phrase, “the forgiveness of sins”.  And so, we’re looking at several words that are all very closely related to one another.  (ie, atonement, propitiation, redemption, forgiveness) 

Rom 5:11  says, “the atonement” is through Jesus Christ, and Eph 1:7, says “redemption” is through His blood.

So it’s clear that “the atonement” and the “redemption” as well as “forgiveness” are all, “through”, or “by” Jesus Christ.

Acts 4:12  says, ”And there is salvation in no one else;  For there is NO other name under heaven, that has been given among men, BY which we must be saved.”


No Forgiveness Under Old Covenant


sacrificesKeep in mind though, that the idea of “atonement” in the Old Testament, while referring to a “sacrifice for sins”,  did not refer to the actual “forgiveness of sins”.  You may get the idea that it means forgiveness, because in the New Testament, atonement is equated with forgiveness.  However, there WAS no actual forgiveness of sins, for anyone, until Jesus Christ shed His blood, and died for sin.  And so, even the sins committed under the old law, could not actually be forgiven, until Christ died.  The book of Hebrews makes this very clear.


We read in  Hebrews 9:15;  “And for this reason, He is the mediator of a NEW covenant, in order that since a death has taken place, for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the FIRST covenant, those who have been called, may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance,”

The writer of Hebrews speaks of the taking away of the old covenant, and the bringing in of the new covenant.  He writes in  Hebrews  7:18-19,  “For on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment, because of it’s weakness and uselessness.  For the law (the law of Moses) made nothing perfect, (the term “perfect” means complete, referring to the complete washing away of sins) and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.”

V-22  says,So much the more also, Jesus has become the GUARANTEE of a better covenant.”

Now listen closely to  chapter 8, verse 1,  and  verses 3-4,  Verse 1  says;  “For the law (the law of Moses, the old covenant), since it has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very form of things, can NEVER by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continuously, make perfect (or complete and sinless)  those who draw near.”  

And then  verses 3 & 4  tell us;  “But in those sacrifices, there is a REMINDER of sins, year by year.  (Those sins still existed.  And the fact that another sacrifice was being made, reminded everyone of that fact)  For it is IMPOSSIBLE for the blood of bulls and goats, to take away sins!” That’s what the scripture says.  It’s impossible for those old sacrifices to take away sins!  Period!

Still speaking of the old law, the Hebrew writer says in  verse 11,  “And every priest stands daily, ministering and offering, time after time, the same sacrifices, which can NEVER take away sins.”

But now he speaks of Jesus, and writes in  Verses 12 & 13,  “But He, (Jesus) having offered ONE sacrifice for sins, for ALL time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward, “Until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet.”   (In other words, Jesus awaits the resurrection day, at the end of time, when even death and satan, will have been completely overcome)

For by ONE offering, He has PERFECTED,  for all time, those who are being sanctified.”  (Verse 14)  He has
“perfected” those who are sanctified.  In other words, He has made them complete, by FORGIVING their sins.  There is no remembrance of those sins whatsoever.  


To be sanctified, is to be “cleansed”, and “set apart” for salvation.  When one is “cleansed”, their sins are forgiven.  And when one is “set apart”, they are taken OUT of this world, and translated INTO the body of Christ, which is His kingdom.  That’s what “sanctified” means;  To be cleansed and set apart.  Washed of your sins, and added to His kingdom.

Colossians 1:13  puts it this way,  “For He delivered us FROM the domain of darkness, and transferred us INTO the kingdom of His beloved Son.”  


The Forgiveness Of Sins


clean slateWhen someone’s sins are forgiven, those sins are “wiped out”, as if they never occurred.  The “slate” is wiped clean, so to speak.  To be forgiven, means that the payment that had been due, has now been cancelled.  No one but Christ, could have ever paid the price required, to have their sins forgiven.  And the reason for that, is because the “price” that God requires, is the blood of a “perfect sacrifice”.



Heb 7:22  tells us,  “..And without shedding of blood, there is NO forgiveness!”

We are reminded in  Rom 3:23,  “For ALL have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.”  So even if we wanted to offer ourselves as a sacrifice, it wouldn’t do any good, because we are ALL guilty of sin.  No One could be that “perfect sacrifice”.   A “perfect” sacrifice, had to be a sinless sacrifice.  And Jesus paid that price, because He WAS that “perfect” sacrifice.

We learn from  1 Peter 1:18-& 19;  “Knowing this, that you were not redeemed with perishable things, like silver and gold, from your FUTILE way of life, inherited from your forefathers;  But, with precious blood, as a lamb, unblemished and spotless (sinless), the blood of Christ.”

So “forgiveness” means that our “debt” has been paid;  It was paid by Christ.  And did you notice the word “redeemed” in that last verse?  “You were not redeemed with perishable things..  but with precious blood..”   Redemption was one of those, “closely related” words that I spoke of earlier.  Remember..  Atonement, Propitiation, Redemption, and Forgiveness.


Redemption / Redeemed


buyingYou know what it means, for instance, to “redeem” something from a pawn shop, right?  It means to “buy it back”.  You “pawn” something, and you are paid for whatever it is that you “pawn”.  And then you can “redeem” that item, by going back to the pawn shop and “buying it back”.  In other words, you “pay the price”, to get it back.



That’s very similar to what bible “redemption” is.  We all have “sold ourselves” to the devil, as we’ve conformed ourselves to this world, and chased after “the things” of this world.  You see, God wanted us to follow Him from the start.  But we didn’t want to.  We’d all rather enjoy all the great “stuff”, this world has to offer.

God tells us, through His apostle John,  “Do not love the world, nor the things IN the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father, is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.  And the world is passing away, and it’s lusts;  But the one who DOES the will of God, abides forever.”  John 2:15-17

Those are some very powerful verses, from God’s word.  But we HAVE loved the world, and “the things in the world”.  You see, all these things, which are “of the world”, are really, “of the devil”.  And when we follow the “things of the devil”, it’s like selling our soul to him.  Oh, he pays us well for selling him our soul.  He pays us with the riches of the world, and with the pride of the world, not to mention all the “fun” that we have, following after the world.  But now, we’re in need of “redemption”. And we don’t have what God requires, to “buy ourselves back”.

Remember what the price is, for the forgiveness of sins?  The price is BLOOD.  The blood of a “sinless sacrifice”.  “The precious blood, as of a lamb, unblemished and spotless”.  And that only comes from ONE source.  And that source is Jesus Christ.

We read in  Hebrews 5:9;  “And having been made PERFECT, (sinless) He became the SOURCE of salvation, to all those who OBEY Him.”


Let’s Talk About Propitiation


As I said in the very beginning, the words “propitiation” and “atonement”, refer to the same thing.  Just as “forgiveness” and “redemption” do.  The word “propitiation” is only found three times in the bible, all three in the New Testament.  It’s used once in  Romans 3:25,  and once in  1 John 2:2,  and again in  1 John 4, verse 10.

“Propitiation” means very simply, “an atonement”.  But more precisely, it means “the one who atones”.  And speaking of this propitiation as a sacrifice, it means “an atoning victim”.  Are you getting the meaning?




As I already said, the word “atonement” is found only one time in the New Testament, in  Romans 5, verse 11.  And the meaning is..  “an exchange”.  Do you know what’s being “exchanged”?  The exchange is, “the just, for the unjust”.

1 Peter 3:18  says,  “For Christ also died for sins, once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.” 

That’s the “exchange”.  Jesus Christ, the “just”, in exchange for you and I, the “unjust”.  That’s quite an “adjustment”!  We should be “crucified” for our sins, but God made an “exchange” and an “adjustment”.   But was it a fair adjustment, and a fair exchange?   It would have been “fair” for us to receive exactly what we had coming.  But God’s grace, has made an adjustment to the scales.  The word “grace” of course means “unmerited favor”.   

While death was what we “merited”;  God’s grace, provided, a “propitiation”, and  “an atoning victim”.  Remember  Romans 3:23  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Well, listen to the next two verses..

Verses 24 & 25,  “Being justified, as a GIFT by His grace, through the “redemption” which is in Christ Jesus;  Whom God displayed publicly, as a “propitiation” in his blood, through faith.  This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God, He passed over the sins previously committed.” 


Israel’s Passover


doorpostsDo you remember the “Passover” of Israel?  When God struck every household in Egypt, with the death, of the firstborn of every household.  But God “passed over” the houses of the sons of Israel, IF they killed a sacrificial lamb, and sprinkled it’s blood upon the doorposts and the lintel of their houses?

1 Corinthians 5, verse 7  says;  “For Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed!”


Christ Our Passover


passoverChrist is our “Passover”.  He is “The Atonement”.  He is “Our Propitiation”.  He is “Our Redemption”.  He is “Our Forgiveness”, and through Him, our sins are “passed over”.




2 Corinthians 5:21  says;  “He (God) made Him (Christ), who knew no sin, to BE sin, (so to speak) on our behalf, so that we might become, the righteousness of God, in Him.” God made Jesus to BE, the propitiation for sin, and the atonement for sin, and the Lamb of God, whose blood is “poured over us” you ight say, so that our sins, can be passed over by God.  


Thanks For Being With Us


I want to thank you for being here with us, as we’ve allowed God to answer the questions, “What is Atonement ?” / “What Is Propitiation ?”  May God bless you in the study of His word, and in your search for truth.

If you have any questions, please ask.  That’s why we’re here, to all learn together, from God’s word.  You can leave your questions or comments, in the comment area below.  Thanks for visiting, and come back soon.









This article has 14 Comments

  1. Jim, your site will not allow me to continue with the last comment string. So in reply to your last comments which was
    Would you please clarify a couple of things for me, concerning your beliefs….

    The Church was founded by Christ about 33A.D. depending on how you count. Membership in the Church is mandatory for all who hear the Gospel. Prior to hearing the Gospel,  men were judged by their Faith in the Good God who rewards and punishes, and by the good conduct of their lives as taught by the natural law written on the hearts of men. St. Paul speaks of all this in various places. Those who sin without repentance are damned. Those who strive truly to love God are saved. This is the same as before Christ, but obviously Heaven was only opened for the first time to the dead after Christ’s Ascension as the Catechism teaches. Before that the souls of the just were in Limbo waiting for the Redeemer.

    1. Great to hear from you Bob. The bible does affirm that the church was established about 33AD, (depending how you count). The word mandatory however, is not a good word to describe membership in the church. The reason being, is that when God saves a person, He Himself ADDS them to His church. It’s not a mater of choice at that point. (see Acts 2:41 & 47) All who hear the gospel, are being offered salvation, through the knowledge of Jesus Christ. But sadly, as you know, only a small fraction of those who hear the gospel, will actually be saved. And the reason for that, is that only a small fraction of those who hear the word, are willing to obey the word. Yes, obedience IS mandatory! Hebrews 5:8-9 is definitive on the subject; “Although He were a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things that He suffered; And having been made perfect, He became the author (or source) of salvation, to all those who OBEY Him.” Those people who heard Peter preach the gospel, on the day of Pentecost (apprx. 33 AD) had a choice to make. Would they believe the gospel, or not? Many of those people made the right choice, and they DID believe, and upon believing, they were “pricked in their hearts”, as the scriptures say. And they asked Peter and the other apostles; “Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) And Peter told them exactly what they had to do about their sin. He said in verse 38; “Repent, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” These people now had another choice to make. Would they choose to obey the words of Peter, and have their sins forgiven, or would they choose to remain in their sins, and remain lost? Well, as we see in verse 41; “So then those who received his word, WERE baptized (obviously they must have also repented as Peter had commanded) and there were ADDED that day, about 3,000 souls.” When they obeyed the “gospel”, what exactly had happened? First, they received the forgiveness of their sins, like Peter had said they would, and then, at the same moment, God added them to His church. And now we can jump down to verse 47, and see that “..the Lord was adding together, day by day, those who were being saved.” I’ll leave you with this question; Do the teachings of Catholicism agree 100% with these very plain teachings of Jesus Christ? If so, great! If not, then why not? I’ll be looking forward to your reply. May God bless you in your studies.

  2. Thanks so much for this wonderful page, it’s always nice to see “father approved” websites.
    To let you know, I am a devout Catholic and do some teaching of apologetics and I adore to study the Bible and church history. I found your site interesting and I would like to explain. Perhaps we can keep this comment string alive for some time while we both learn about the love our Lord has for us.

    I have several non-Catholic friends that speak of their view of the Atonement in this manner. That in Christ’s Passion and death, God the Father poured out all of His wrath for the sins of the elect, on Christ the Son. In Christ’s Passion and death, Christ bore the punishment of the Father’s wrath that the elect deserved for their sins. In their view, this is what it means to bear the curse, to bear the Father’s wrath for sin. Christ’s Passion and death, God the Father transferred all the sins of all the elect onto His Son. Then God the Father hated, cursed and damned His Son, who was evil in the Father’s sight on account of all the sins of the elect being concentrated in the Son. In doing so, God the Father punished Christ for all the sins of the elect of all time, those sins being past, present and all in the future as well. Because the sins of the elect are now paid for, through Christ’s having already been punished for them, the elect can never be punished for any sin they might ever commit, because every sin they might ever commit has already been punished. For that reason the non-Catholic theology is required to maintain that Christ died only for the elect. Because if Christ died for everyone, this would mean salvation for everyone, since it would entail that all the sins of all people, have already been punished, and therefore cannot be punished again.
    Is this a view you hold close to your vestments as well?
    Seems like a long intro for such a short question.
    God Bless you

    I will bookmark your page and check back in a few days to see your answer and perhaps continue our conversation in you would like. ???

    1. Hi Bobby, and thanks for your comments and question.  In response to the suggested idea of atonement, I’ve never heard that exact scenario before.  And I absolutely do NOT hold to anything like that, because it is completely contrary to the bible.  The part about the Father hating, and cursing, and damning His son is preposterous and actually blasphemous!  Christ absolutely died for everyone, in the sense that every one is given the opportunity to be saved, if they choose to obey the terms of salvation set forth by God.  The idea of only the “elect” receiving salvation is a false teaching that must be refuted vigorously.  When the bible uses the term “the elect”, it refers to those people who chose to obey God’s commands pertaining to salvation.  when the bible uses the term “predestined”, it refers to the fact that God has predestined, and pre-ordained, that those who obey certain commands regarding salvation, will be saved.  It’s like when Jesus said in Mark 16:16;  “He who believes and is baptized, shall be saved”.   God has pre-ordained that those are two of the conditions that must be met for one to be saved.  And therefore, everyone who meets those conditions, and the other required conditions, has been “elected” to be saved.  Everyone as an individual must choose for themselves whether they will be saved or not.  God has offered salvation to everyone.  But not everyone will accept His terms of salvation. 

      It is a misconception to say that a “non-Catholic” theology would require this or that way of thinking.  The only theology that matters is the theology of God and the bible.  If you believe what the bible says, it’s not a Catholic theology, but rather it is God’s theology.  My article on atonement is actually very clear as to what God requires of us to be saved. 

      May we study together, the subject of what is required to be saved?  Or can we study any other subject of your choosing?  Please let me know.  May God bless you in your continued search for the truth. 

      1. Don’t misunderstand me, I did not pick up on the above being your belief. I was shocked to hear from several of my close non-Catholic friends that they adhere to this fallacy. I just thought it would be a great intro for some quality content and discussion.
        I have a website under development and my plans are to offer a platform that has content designed to inspire people to live a more devout and joyful Catholic life.  I will cover a variety of topics within the Catholic faith that will be presented in a dynamic in-depth manner. This content will represent the one true Catholic faith taught by the church itself.
        Concerning the Catholic view of Christ’s Passion and Atonement is that Christ offered Himself up in self-sacrificial love to the Father, obedient even unto death, for the sins of all men. In His human will He offered to God a sacrifice of love that was more pleasing to the Father than the combined sins of all men of all time are displeasing to Him, and thus made satisfaction for our sins. The Father was never angry with Christ. Nor did the Father pour out His wrath on the Son. The Passion is Christ’s greatest act of love, the greatest revelation of the heart of God, and the glory of Christ. So when Christ was on the cross, God the Father was not pouring out His wrath on His Son; in Christ’s act of self-sacrifice in loving obedience to the Father, Christ was most lovable in the eyes of the Father. Rather, in Christ’s Passion we humans poured out our enmity with God on Christ, by what we did to Him in His body and soul. And He freely chose to let us do all this to Him. Deeper still, even our present sins contributed to His suffering, because He, in solidarity with us, grieved over all the sins of the world, not just the sins of the elect. Hence, St. Francis of Assisi said, “Nor did demons crucify Him; it is you who have crucified Him and crucify Him still, when you delight in your vices and sins.” The Passion is a revelation of the love of God, not the wrath of God.
        A big difference from the shocking view that I was told from close friends.
        My plans are to add this above information to my site as well.
        Your invite to study a particular subject does sound very interesting but, as you know, the Catholic faith is Christ centered while yours is Bible based. If you are open to Catholic Tradition being a part of my response, I am open to the invite.
        God Bless you brother, Peace be with you.

        1. Hi Bobby. I appreciate your response and I must agree, it is shocking and very disappointing, that so much of the “religious world” holds such views which are contrary to the teaching of Christ. I agree with the words you quoted from Francis of Assisi; “Nor did demons crucify Him”. And the way I take that, is to mean that demons from another realm didn’t crucify Jesus, but rather, “demonic” men from this world crucified Him. It says in Acts 2:23; “This man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross, by the hands of godless men, and put Him to death.”

          Concerning my invitation for you and I to study the bible; I would indeed be open to Catholic tradition as being a part of your response to me. However, we must understand that if that tradition should happen to contradict the word of God, well, I think we both know that the word of God must take precedence. I do question what you mean though, when you say that “the Catholic faith is Christ centered, and your faith is bible based”. Bible based faith IS Christ centered faith. No one would have the slightest idea of the Christ, without it having been revealed in the bible. And it is a biblical fact, that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God”. Romans 10:17. NO ONE can have even the slightest degree of faith in Jesus Christ, without the word of God providing the “means” to that faith. With that being said, what would you like to study about? You pick the subject and we’ll discuss it like respectful Christians should. Just like it says in Isaiah 1:18; “Come now, let us reason together saith the Lord.” God bless you Bobby.

          1. It was not my intent to put words in your mouth or assume your belief. My thought to convey was that the Catholic Church is Christ centered meaning the Catholic church teaches sacred scripture is the written part of tradition, taking record of the community’s experience of God or more specifically of Jesus Christ. Thus, the Bible must be interpreted within the context of sacred tradition and within the community of the church. This goes against what MOST Protestant churches teach, which is that the Bible alone is a sufficient basis for all Christian teachings, also known as sola scriptura.

          2. Would you please clarify a couple of things for me, concerning your beliefs. I will assume that you believe that people were saved during the first century. And I will also assume that you would have to agree, that the manner in which those people were saved, is by obeying the commands of Jesus Himself, and of the Holy Spirit inspired word of God, revealed in the bible. There was simply no other manner of being saved, other than by obeying the words spoken by the inspired men, who then subsequently wrote those words down, and circulated those writings among the various congregations of believers. Those words, constituted the “traditions” by which men were saved, in the first century. So then, my first question to you is this; Do you believe that salvation was available, and still is available, to all people who have ever lived after the first century, in exactly the same manner in which those people were saved? And my second question is dependent on your answer to the first question. If you believe that people can no longer be saved in exactly the same manner in which they were saved in the first century, when did God’s terms of salvation change? Did they change in the second century, or the third century, or in some subsequent century? If you believe that God’s terms of salvation have NOT changed, even until this day, then it is an inescapable conclusion that NOTHING besides the new testament, is required for salvation. The new testament goes so far as to say, in 2 John, verse 9; “Anyone who goes too far, and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God! The one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.” The teachings being referred to in that verse are obviously the teachings that existed at that period of time. And those same teachings still exist today. Therefore, if our “traditions” today, differ in any way, from the teachings of Christ, which were revealed by Christ Himself, and by the inspired writers of the new testament, then those traditions are WRONG, and must be forsaken! “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching (the already revealed teaching of Christ) do not receive him into your house, and do not bid him godspeed.” 2 John , verse 10.

            PS.. I’m not aware of any denominations that do not at least have their own creeds that they use, in addition to the bible, and most also have some sort of “manual of discipline”, in addition to the teaching of Christ.

  3. good article on the atonement, the bible can be confusing for many of us to know if we are understanding it properly or not?

    You do such a good job explaining the bible in your articles, I always enjoy coming back to learn more from you.

    How long have you been studying the bible, I am new only about 5 years now and I am still learning everyday reading my bible and devotions

    1. Thanks for your comments. I know that you have visited before, and I thank you for that. I’ve actually been studying the bible for about 33 years. It was 1983 when I realized my need for God, and was baptized for the forgiveness of my sins. That is when God added me to His church. I became the adult bible class teacher a few years later, and then did some fill-in preaching after that. Now I’ve been the full-time preacher for the congregation hear in Buffalo for the past two and a half years, and continue to conduct the adult bible class. Thanks again for visiting and for taking the time to comment. If there’s anything specific that you have a question about, I would be glad to help you find the answers in God’s word. Talk to you soon, Jim.

  4. Thank you for clarifying some very important points about redemption and propitiation. It’s so important to realize that there was no forgiveness in the Old Testament, and that only through Christ becoming the perfect sacrifice were our sins truly redeemed! I wonder if you could talk more in a future article about why Christ was the only one who could fill that role? Thanks for your insights!

    1. Hi Deedee. Thanks for visiting our website, and thanks you for your comments too. Your question is also a very good one. I’m quite sure that there are a lot of people who really don’t understand the nature of Jesus, and what His role has been. I think a good article to read would be “How is Jesus God?” But I’m going to take your idea of writing about why Jesus was the ONLY one who fill this role, and I’ll let the bible show us the answer to that question. Thanks very much for your input. I hope you will check back and view that answer. I pray that you’ll always appreciate and follow God’s word.

  5. I like the idea that you are helping people to find meaning to important questions through writings and scripture. Though I am a well educated person, I had some difficulty reading the post. I felt I could use more explanation than quotes to read. Perhaps you could offer more insights along with the direct quotes.

    1. Hello Marc. Thanks very much for your comments. Is there a particular thought that you are in question of, from this article on atonement? I’d be happy to explain more about the various verses of scripture that I used in the article. Many times that’s the case, that the verse alone does require some more explanation from someone who has a bit more experience with the scriptures. That’s exactly my hope, that I can be of help in showing you some verses and explaining them to you. Please let me know how I can help you, thanks, Jim.

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