How Ones Perception of God Affects Ones Understanding of the Atonement

Speaker: Categories: May 08, 1993


[1hr, 18min, 57sec / 58min, 37sec]


"Dictionaries," according to Dr. Maxwell, "all seem to agree that the original meaning of atonement was 'harmony, concord, agreement, unity of feeling.' And the verb 'to atone' used to mean 'to restore friendly relations between persons who have been at variance; hence, reconciliation.' These meanings, however, are marked as 'archaic and obsolete.' In 1611, when the King James committee decided to use the word , atonement' in Romans 5: 11, they understood it in that old, 'archaic' sense. This is precisely the meaning of the Greek."


"As time passed, " he notes, "the word ‘atonement' came to be used more and more to denote 'appeasement, making amends, paying a penalty to satisfy legal demands.' As the Oxford English Dictionary observes, 'Here the idea of reconciliation or reunion is practically lost sight of under that of legal satisfaction or amends.'"

"This latter meaning of 'atonement' fits well into traditional explanations of salvation based on the assumption that sinners are dealing with a God who is required by law, justice, and the holiness of his own character to torture the lost for eternity. If this basic premise is correct, sinners do well to be preoccupied with their legal standing with such a deity and grateful for payment of legal penalty in their behalf that will propitiate the wrath of their offended God."


Born in England, Graham Maxwell received his Ph.D. in Biblical studies from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His dissertation focused on elements of interpretation which have entered into the translation of the New Testament, especially Paul's letter to the Romans. His interest in Romans has continued ever since. The SDA Bible Commentary discussion on Romans is his contribution, although he notes that editing changed the meaning of some of what was submitted for publication.

Dr. Maxwell taught Bible and biblical languages at Pacific Union College for nineteen years. In 1961 he joined the staff at Loma Linda University. His favorite course has been a year-long trip through the whole Bible to discover the picture of God within each of the sixty-six books. He has taught this course 135 times!

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