The Philosophy of Atonement
By Carl Hagensick
The Logic of Paul
The Apostle Paul is noted as a being a great logician. In few places is the depth of his reasoning more exhibited than in the fifth chapter of Romans, particularly verses 16 through 21.
To set the background we will begin this study in verse 12: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Here is the simple statement of the hereditary nature of sin.
In verses 13 and 14 he distinguishes between subjective and objective sin: “For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.”
While the law identified sin, the fact of sin was a reality from the time of Adam’s original transgression in the Garden of Eden. The New International version of the Bible makes an interesting interpretative rendering for the phrase “after the similitude of Adam’s transgression.” It reads “even over those who did not sin by breaking a command.” The thought appears to be that death was the equal consequence for wilfull sins and those which could be attributed to ignorance or Adamic weakness.
Verse 15: “But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.” Paul here begins to zero in on his main subject, a contrast between original sin and the act which brings redemption. Although the ransom, anti-lutron, is a corresponding price, a perfect life for a perfect life, Paul is emphasizing the differences between the redemption and the sin for which it atones. The original sin was of one man, the atoning act covered the sins of many. The original sentence was for one act of disobedience, the atonement covers a multitude of transgressions.
A Fine Distinction
The next three verses are the heart of Paul’s analysis of sin atonement. However the fine logic is diluted by the various English translations of these verses. The word translated “justification” in verse 16 is not the same word translated “justification” in verse 18 but is the same as the word translated “righteousness” in verse 18. A still different Greek word is translated “righteousness” in verse 17. To illustrate this confusion we will quote these verses below, inserting the a transliteration of the Greek words in question:
“And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification [dikaioma]. For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness [dikaiosune] shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness [dikaioma] of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification [dikaiosis] of life.”
Of the three words dikaiosune is easiest to identify. In the words of W. E. Vine, it means “the character or quality of being right or just; it was formerly spelled `rightwiseness,’ which clearly expresses the meaning.”
The distinction between dikaioma and dikaiosis is not as easy to determine. Lexicographers disagree amongst themselves. Vine says that that dikaioma represents the “expression and effect of dikaiosis.” Writing in 1858, J.A. Bengel in his Gnomon of the Greek New Testament, says just the opposite. “Dikaioma is, so to speak, the material substratum, the foundation for dikaiosis, justification; obedience, righteousness fulfilled. It may be called justificament (justificamentum), the ground and material of justification.” Both agree that the two are related as cause to effect. They just disagree on which is cause and which is effect. Paul’s statement in verse 18 of justification (dikaiosis) being the result of the righteousness (dikaioma) of one seems to strongly support the contention of Bengel.
The First Advent
With this background let us proceed to look at verse 16: “And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.” The contrast is drawn between the original sin which was one act and the free gift of the ransom which covered a multitude of transgressions. This free gift was not justification, but the merit (the dikaioma, justificament, or basis of justification) which would eventuate in making all men righteous when it would be applied. This was the work of Calvary—to provide a ransom, a basis for the eventual making right or justification of the human race.
The Second Advent
We find the application of this free gift in verse 18: “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” Here we see the work of the second advent—the actual justification (dikaiosis) that will be the result of the free gift of righteousness (dikaioma) coming upon all men.
The application of Christ’s merit will result in universal resuscitation of all the dead: “All that are in their graves shall hear the voice of the Son of man and come forth” (John 5:29). This, however, is only the beginning of the atonement work. Resuscitated mankind will need instruction in righteousness in order to maintain their salvation. This work is outlined in verse 19: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous (dikaios, the root word for the ones treated above).” Here it is the educational process of the kingdom being described, the “being made righteous.”
The Gospel Age
The two advents of Christ are separated by a long period of time—the Gospel Age. The work of this age is discussed in verse 17. As verse 17 falls between 16 and 18 so the Gospel Age comes between the first and second advents. Verse 17 reads: “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness [dikaioma] shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.” Here we find the correct word for righteousness, for it is Christ’s perfections that are being emphasized. The highlighted words in the text are the author’s for emphasis. These are terms that are peculiar to the church. The bride of Christ receives not only grace, but an abundance of grace. They shall not only live but they shall reign in life. This work with the church during the present time requires not only the ransom for their justification but also the sin offering for their day by day shortcomings.
The Jewish Age
In verse 20 we have a flashback to the Jewish age: “Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” The particle “de,” here translated “moreover” is usually rendered “but,” introducing an antithesis or contrast (see Vine’s Dictionary). Having outlined the workings of the grace of salvation through Christ, Paul reverts to his main subject, the contrast of the law and the gospel. The law identified what wrong-doings were sin, thus making sin “abound.” Grace, however, was more than equal to the task for it redeemed not only the gentiles under Adamic condemnation, but the extra “curse of the law” which kept Israel under bondage and condemnation.
Finally, Paul wraps up his discussion in verse 21: “That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness [dikaiosune] unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” Now the completeness of the atonement picture is shown. The reign of sin and death will be replaced by the reign of life and righteousness. This life will be obtained through the use of both the ransom and the sin offering, the applications of Jesus’ perfection (dikaiosune) producing in all men their own righteousness (dikaiosune) which will ennable them to maintain that life.
In summary, verses 16 through 21, outline the philosophy of redemption age by age:
Verse 16 shows the work of the first advent in providing the basis for justification, the ransom.
Verse 17 outlines the use of that free gift in abundance so that the church may reign in life.
Verse 18 picks up the work of the second advent in applying the merit, justifying all men.
Verse 19 carries on with the educational work of the kingdom so men can maintain life.
Verse 20 picks up the object of the Jewish age in identifying sin with Christ removing the “curse of the cross.”
Verse 21 completes the picture by showing how men maintain salvation through the development of their own personal righteousness.
Foreword to The Atonement Between God and Man
Paul’s message here to the Roman brethren seems to confirm the conclusions arrived at in the foreword of Volume 5 (page ii) Studies in the Scriptures: “Now we see that our Lord Jesus left the Heavenly glory that He might accomplish a ransoming work for Adam and his race. We see that his change of nature from a spirit to a human being was with a view to enabling him to be the Ransom-price—a perfect man for a perfect man—Anti-lutron—a corresponding price. We now see that Jesus gave himself a Ranson-price for all at the time of his consecration at thirty years of age at Jordan. He continued in giving the Ransom-price, that is, in laying down His life, which in due time would constitute A Ransom-price for Father Adam and his race. He finished his work of laying down His life, surrendering it, sacrificing it, permitting it to taken from Him, when He on the cross cried: `It is finished!’ Nothing more could be laid down than was there laid down—a Ransom, a corresponding price, for Father Adam. But it was not paid over as a price in settlement of Adam’s account, else Adam and the entire sinner race would then and there have been turned over to Jesus. The price was merely laid in the hands of Divine Justice as a deposit, to the credit of the One who had died, that He might apply it later in harmony with the Divine Plan. Our Lord Jesus was raised from the dead a spirit being of the Divine nature, as a reward for His faithfulness and loyalty to God in surrendering His earthly life sacrificially. `Him hath God highly exalted and given a name above every name.’”