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Non-Trinitarians who do not believe Jesus is God Almighty include Unitarians, Socinians, Arians, Jehova's Witnesses, etc. This would not include, supposedly, Modalists and LDS/Mormons.

The idea of atonement in the Old Testament was that a sinner would bring an offering to atone for his sin, and the death of that animal (and thus, its life) would take the place of the sinner's.

In his Temple, Its Ministry and Services, Alfred Edersheim wrote,

The fundamental idea of sacrifice in the Old Testament is that of substitution, which again seems to imply everything else—atonement and redemption, vicarious punishment and forgiveness. The firstfruits go for the whole products; the firstlings for the flock; the redemption-money for that which cannot be offered; and the life of the sacrifice, which is in its blood (Lev 17:11), for the life of the sacrificer. Hence also the strict prohibition to partake of blood. Even in the ‘Korban,’ gift (Mark 7:11) or free-will offering, it is still the gift for the giver. This idea of substitution, as introduced, adopted, and sanctioned by God Himself, is expressed by the sacrificial term rendered in our version ‘atonement,’ but which really means covering, the substitute in the acceptance of God taking the place of, and so covering, as it were, the person of the offerer.

Now, this would be a 1:1 relationship, i.e. one sinner, one animal. If Jesus is just a man (or even an angel, another created being), even if he be a sinless man (just like the animal was sinless and was offered as an atonement), how can Jesus effect atonement for all of humanity (John 1:29) rather than just one person?

  • You must give some basic background information with your question. Atonement through sacrifice in the Old Testament applies to only a few specific cases like those mentioned in Leviticus 5: 1-6 and 6: 1-6. It is a very complex subject. You make it far too simplistic. Your 1:1 assertion is also incorrect. John 1: 29 might as well mean that Jesus took away the sins by changing the rules of what sin means. No, I do not like the slapdash manner of the question at all. – gideon marx Dec 8 '14 at 16:58
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    I believe I was told once that a lamb offering at passover was enough to cover the sins of 10 people for a year. So there is apparently some sort of conversion factor. Perhaps a sinless man as a sacrifice is worth billions of sins for thousands of years. Pure conjecture. – fredsbend Dec 8 '14 at 18:01
  • @H3br3wHamm3r81 - I've deleted my answer based on your most recent edit to your question. LDS—although non-trinitarians—believe that Jesus Christ is the Almighty. – ShemSeger Dec 8 '14 at 18:26
  • I recommend changing your question to, "How do Christians that do not believe Christ is God Almighty explain how Jesus can effect atonement for all of humanity?" Not all Non-Trinitarians have the same view on the Divinity of Christ. – ShemSeger Dec 8 '14 at 18:29
  • @fredsbend: That's interesting, since the Passover lamb has nothing to do with atoning for sins. There's no mention of such a notion in scripture. – user900 Dec 8 '14 at 20:47
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I would imagine that your question may have multiple answers depending on the specific variety of Unitarian that is answering it. For example, from my reading on Unitarian Universalism as compared to what I know about Jehovah's Witnesses, it is unlikely that the Unitarian Universalist perspective is similar to that of a Jehovah's Witness.

The best source I was able to find on the subject is Hosea Ballou in his "A Treatise on Atonement" available here.

The first important detail is that a Unitarian Universalist does not recognize atonement as meaning the same thing as most Trinitarians. This is from Chapter 5:

I have already entered my protest against the necessity of atonement, on the principles upon which Christians have generally believed it, by showing the finite nature of sin, and the error of supposing that the law of God required the endless misery of mankind as a penal requisition.

Atonement signifies reconciliation, or satisfaction, which is the same. It is a being unreconciled to truth and justice which needs reconciliation; and it is a dissatisfied being which needs satisfaction. Therefore I raise my inquiry on the question, Is God the unreconciled or dissatisfied party, or is it man?

He concludes that atonement is a synonym of reconciliation.

To say that God loved man any less after transgression than before, denies his unchangeability; but to say that man was wanting in love to God, places him in his real character. As God was not the unreconciled party, no atonement was necessary for his reconciliation. Where there is dissatisfaction, it presupposes an injured party; and can it be hard to determine which was injured by sin, the Creator or the sinner? If God were unreconciled to man, the atonement was necessary to renew his love to his creature; but if man were the unreconciled, the atonement was necessary to renew his love to his Creator. The matter is now stated so plainly that no person who can read can mistake.

Assuming your question still stands: "How can Jesus affect atonement for all men?" Then his answer is essentially a statement of faith in scripture (quoted from Chapter 6):

I next inquire, has the Mediator power or ability, to perform the great work of atonement, which is the reconciliation of the world to God? Those scriptures, with their connections, which I have quoted to prove the Mediator's dependency, abundantly prove the sufficiency of his power to accomplish the work in which he is engaged. If all power in heaven and earth be committed to Christ, no doubt can be entertained of its sufficiency. If the whole system of law in moral nature be subservient to the designs of the Redeemer, and if he holds in his hands the power of moral government, it certainly must be at his option, whether men shall be reconciled to God or not.

From what I was able to gather, he does not make much of an effort to understand the mechanism of how exactly this is accomplished, but given the nature of his understanding of "atonement" I doubt that it would be necessary to question the ability of Christ to effect this change in state.

Again, I would imagine that a Jehovah's Witness would have a very different idea of how this works, presumably based on a more "traditional" understanding of the concept of atonement. However, most sources I can find on the Jehovah's Witness view of atonement are from hostile sources and are therefore not reliable descriptions of what they actually believe.

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The answer to your question lies in the difficulty of translation. And in this case it has to do with the difference between the words atonement and propitiation.

In the book of Genesis we learned that payment for sin was only possible through the death of the sinner. The sacrifice of the animals did not fulfill that that requirement, and was only a temporary appeasement. those deaths were an atonement:

ATO'NING, ppr.

  1. Reconciling. Obs.

  2. Making amends, or satisfaction.

It is to be remembered that wealth was assessed by the possessions a man held in those days, since the system of bartering was the primary means of commerce among the common people. In a roundabout way it can be said that God was using at the sacrificial system to teach Israel that their well being was directly tied to their obedience of God.

On the other hand Jesus sacrifice was a propitiation:

PROPI'TIATE, v.t. [L. propitio; pio. Eng. pity.]

To conciliate; to appease one offended and render him favorable; to make propitious.

The difference between atonement and propitiation lies in the fact that animal sacrifice was only symbolic, while Jesus sacrifice was actually propitious:

PROPI'TIOUS, a. [L.propitius.] Favorable; kind; applied to men.

  1. Disposed to be gracious or merciful; ready to forgive sins and bestow blessings; applied to God.

The difference between the two which becomes lost in translation is that Animal life, even though sinless; could not fulfill the requirement of:

Genesis 2:17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."

since it was not the same life, the life God gave to the animals is not the breath of life he breathed into man:

Genesis 7:21 and 22 NKJV And all flesh died that moved on the earth: birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man. 22 All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, all that was on the dry land, died.

Genesis 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

As opposed to:

Genesis 2:19 And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

The difference here being that man became a living soul, but that is not the case with the animals. and I have highlighted the breath of the spirit of life, because that requires some added study.

When we look at the sacrifice of Jesus as compared to sacrifice of the animals, we find it that they are very different. Jesus as a sinless man is able to assume man's sins, while the Animals are not. To explain the reasons why would be excessively long for this site.

hope this helps

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Maybe by first considering that the premise as described is flawed in it's inception.

The description of one being a non-trinitarian does not necessitate the lowering of Eshoo (Jesus, Yeshua, et al...) to the mere status a of fleshly begotten man. If we lay aside for the moment the decisions made at Nicea, and forgo any straining or twisting of scripture into other words (or thought), but only take his (the sacrifice's) words at face value. Then we might consider the parts where he undeniably claimed being the only begotten Son of GOD. And then leave any other claims of deity or non-deity alone, adding nothing else. So as to not to open a whole books worth of rebuttal of he said...she say... on the merit's of the nature of the Trinity (or a'gin it).

Then that alone is enough to make his a ONE of a kind first-fruit offering. Complete with a scriptural based blood atonement. That being it was made with a offering selected for sacrifice on 'the lamb's selection day' (4th day prior to Passover - Palm Sunday for those of that inkling). And him being completed, just like the lambs, prior to sunset on that mid week's (High) Sabbath of Passover.

If this was truly the case, then deliverance of such a soul (IMHO) might quite possibly be construed as indeed an atonement for all of humanity.

  • Can you back this up with any quotes from non-trinitarian authors? – curiousdannii Dec 14 '14 at 21:23

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