The Israelite Roots of Atonement Terminology

TitleThe Israelite Roots of Atonement Terminology
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsT. Spackman, Benjamin
JournalBYU Studies Quarterly
KeywordsAlma; Alma 26; Alma 26:17; Atonement; Israelite; Mosiah; Mosiah 27: 28; Mosiah 27:29; Redeemer; Redemption

This article focuses on three common English terms—atonement, salvation, and redemption; their usual Hebrew equivalents as rendered in the King James Version of the Bible (KJV); and their associated conceptions found within the Hebrew Bible. In general, ancient Israelites understood redeem primarily in terms of kinship and family law and secondarily as a covenantal term. Salvation was found more often in political or martial contexts. And atonement was primarily a priestly term, dealing with ritual purity and pollution. The semantic lines between these Hebrew terms have been blurred in modern English usage, if not erased entirely; they have also become highly theological, eschatological, and heavenly, whereas their conceptual Israelite linguistic origins are often grounded in the concrete, this-worldly, and practical. The article suggests that recovering the Hebrew sources of the three terms yields more clarity about the theology of atonement.