I’m looking for answers from Protestant Trinitarians as this seems to be a fairly recent explanation, currently in vogue in some groups (mainly evangelical, I would suppose).

The basis for my query is the following scripture texts (all A.V.):

“And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” Romans 5:11

“And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations : it is most holy unto the Lord. …when they give an offering unto the Lord, to make an atonement for your souls, and thou shalt take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shalt appoint if for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation; that it may be a memorial unto the children of Israel before the Lord, to make an atonement for your souls.” Exodus 30:10 & 15-16

“For the life of the flesh is in the blood : and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your soul : for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” Leviticus 17:11

I note that modern translations use the word ‘atonement’ more frequently. However, I am not looking for simple agreement with what those texts say, or any subjective opinion as to what atonement means to individual Christians, but of what this one word, ‘atonement’ actually means, in context, and whether it could be misleading to say it means ‘at-one-ment’ (not least because that phrase of cobbled-together words explains nothing, in and of itself.)

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    I have given a link and a summary to my own study of kaphar and kippurim in an answer on SE-BH. My own understanding is that there are two concepts to grasp : containment and branchings.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 21, 2020 at 17:39

5 Answers 5


I first came across the idea of “at-one-ment” with Christ after I become a Christian (as a mature adult). It seemed a simple explanation but later I came to see it more as a ‘dumbed-down sound-bite’. It conveyed the notion that, because Christ had done something, people could then become ‘one with Christ’. Oh, but what danger lurked behind that view! Christians are people who have died WITH Christ, for if that never happens, they can never be at one with him. 2 Timothy 2:11 says:

For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him. If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.

According to the ‘at-one-ment’ pseudo-explanation of the word ‘atonement’ the impression is given that because Christ has done something, we are sorted. Jesus has done it all. Well, so he has – he has achieved a finished work via the cross and we can do nothing to add to that completed salvation. But the danger lies in then thinking we can just verbally agree with the wonder of what Christ has done for us, thank God for it, and that’s us united with Christ. Is it really such a passive matter for believers? Is this not the sort of shallow thinking behind the notorious “Sinner’s Prayer”?

Over the five years I spent in a U.K. Baptist church I learned much more, and the depth of meaning behind the enormity of what is involved in reconciling sinners to God began to dawn. That, however, did not nullify the fact that I had become a Christian at the outset. It just took a while for me to appreciate the significance of what being crucified prior to being raised with Christ, meant. But the way some believers used dumbed-down sound-bite explanations really hindered my grasp of matters.

It took me a while to understand the significance of Romans 6 but a key point came from verses 8 to 12:

Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him… Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let no sin therefore reign in your moral body. (NIV)

Jesus explained what is required of all Christians in Matthew 16:24-25:

If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

That was my ‘lightbulb moment’. Verbally agreeing with the wonder of what Jesus did by dying on the cross was not my dying to sin. That was not me disowning myself, picking up my cross daily, and losing my life for Christ’s sake in the process. It had to get personal, not just be something done in the past by Christ which, two thousand years later, moved me intellectually or emotionally into a statement of verbal agreement.

My answer is that claiming biblical atonement means “at-one-ment with Christ” explains nothing and may even prevent sincere people grasping the enormity of what it means to enter into the death of Christ, which has to happen before we can be raised with Christ.

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    The "at one" meaning dates back, in English, at least to the middle ages and even farther back in Latin. I agree that it sounds like a chintzy sound byte but it's likely legit. Knowing this does nothing to remove the dangers inherent in "shallow" Christianity. Dec 23, 2020 at 12:27
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    The middle part makes it sound like we must first deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus before we can be born again; as though it were a pre-requisite. That is concerning. Dec 23, 2020 at 12:29
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    @Mike Borden - I've taken out the sentence which gave the wrong impression. Thanks for drawing my attention to it.
    – Lesley
    Dec 23, 2020 at 13:51

Some have said that Bible translator William Tyndale coined the word atonement, while others say he took a seldom used word and added new meaning to it.

See https://rsc.byu.edu/prelude-restoration/words-fitly-spoken-tyndales-english-translation-bible

Tyndale chose the word specifically because it held the idea of “at one” in its spelling. So it is not the case that “at-one-ment” is a later mnemonic to help Christians grasp what Jesus did for us. The very theological definition that was imposed upon the word was because the idea of “at one” was in it.

So atonement is definitionally “at-one-ment”.

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    I found this in an online etymology dictionary (etymonline.com/word/atone): 1590s, "be in harmony, agree, be in accordance," from adverbial phrase atonen (c. 1300) "in accord," literally "at one," a contraction of at and one. It retains the older pronunciation of one. Meaning "make up (for errors or deficiencies)" is from 1660s; that of "make reparations" is from 1680s. Perhaps Tyndale didn't "invent" the meaning but co-opted it instead. Dec 23, 2020 at 12:23

It's a very good question indeed. I want to answer the question and also give some specific examples. ;-) It's a bit tricky with the wording "What is the Biblical Basis for defining atonement as at-one-ment with God." Let's break it down a bit.
It is Biblical to use this definition of atonement? Absolutely. It is the most precise definition?? No. Let's break it down a bit. "In Christianity, atonement refers to the needed reconciliation between sinful mankind and the holy God. This reconciliation is possible through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, as expressed in Romans 3:25, Romans 5:11, and Romans 5:19. Atonement is the Bible’s central message." Christianity.com "In the King James Version of the Bible, the word atonement is only used once in the New Testament – in Romans 5:11. However, most other versions have translated the word “atonement” to “reconciliation” because that is the literal interpretation of the word." We all know that there are many words with small, subtle shades of meaning. In most cases, we can use synonyms to give the same meaning, but in some contexts, a word with similar meaning just doesn't work. In a specific context, the word would work fine, but in another specific context it evokes a totally different sense and feel.
The example is that when people come to faith in Christ, we are "Justified". Christ is our advocate/ our defense attorney, and his father is the Judge and so God looks at us, and we are "declared righteous" by the work of the substitutionary payment of Christ. Whew. This is a lot for a new believer to understand, let alone explain to someone else. The real, best meaning is literally "to be declared righteous", but people need a simple way to understand and remember -- [Child-like faith] so we use "Justified=Just-as-if-id-never-sinned. In God's eyes, I have been declared righteous, so it's just as if I'd never sinned.
This is the same as with the phrase "At-one-ment". In the Old Testament - the most common use is connected with the Jewish Day of Atonement. For Jews, this is still the most holy day of the Year. The High priest would enter the Holy Place and sacrifice goats, which would be the payment for the sins of the people. This special holy day involved the scape goat, in which two goats were used. They cast lots and one goat was set free, and the other was the ransom which was sacrificed in place of the people. Other dictionaries say - making amends, to pay for a wrong or sin, usually by a sacrifice, etc, but the common theme is that there is a payment, and in scripture, we see the majority of time this payment was the blood of the sheep or goat. It is by this payment that we are reconciled to God. **It's not simply a formal declaration, but a life is given for another.
So through Christ's death- his blood in place of mine, he was a the perfect Passover lamb, who was killed on Passover at the very time the perfect lambs were being slaughtered in the temple. Through his payment we are Justified and reconciled to God. Once we were enemies of God, now, we are adopted, joint-heirs and made-at-one.
If you can remember reconciliation, then great- use that. When we look at the word, "Atonement" we can break it down At-one-ment and it's simply a much easier way for most people to understand and also remember the concept. I think someone saying it's dangerous or in any way implies that it's something I did [works based] is totally off base and without merit. It's reading something in that does not exist in the word or the definition.

Hope that helps.

  • Welcome to the site! My original Q was edited. It initially asked, "If, in your church, you hear atonement explained as being at-one-ment with Christ, could you use the Bible to show if that is sound or misleading?" Clearly, you think it is sound and you have explained why. Another answer says why it hindered the person from grasping the depth of meaning of being "dead with Christ". You may find deeper points related to this in christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/80128/…
    – Anne
    Dec 21, 2020 at 16:46
  • Thanks Anne. I just wanted to point out that's why I emphasized that atonement always carries the notion of blood shed. It's not at all "verbally agreeing" as another wrote. Feeling that this is a watered-down definition, is an opinion, but the person did nothing to show from scripture or a dictionary or commentary how it's incorrect or in any way inaccurate. Cheers. It's a memory device that helps people understand substitutionary atonement.
    – Tennman7
    Dec 21, 2020 at 17:20
  • Yes, there's no question about shed blood required for atonement. That is not in question, let alone dispute! My Q expresses concern that natty little sayings may cause believers to gloss over subtle, but vitally important depths of meanings in scripture. "Jesus did that... therefore I'm at one with Christ" is on a par with "it's just-as-if I never sinned" for explaining justification. Believers then trot out those ditties, moving swiftly on to the next contraction of what is profound spiritual truth. You can tell I'm not a teenager!
    – Anne
    Dec 21, 2020 at 17:42
  • Having just received a comment and link from Nigel, I would point you to his answer to this Stack Q, hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/31487/…
    – Anne
    Dec 21, 2020 at 17:50

The once for all atonement that Jesus made possible.

Heb. 7:26 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens; 27 who has no daily need, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because He did this once for all time when He offered up Himself. 28 For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, who has been made perfect forever.

The one point in time moment of faith in which God justifies the sinner by removing their debt of sin, declaring them righteous, making them a new creation, giving them then Holy Spirit (NT Only)

Eph. 1:13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of the promise,

John 7:39 But this He said in reference to the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Romans 4 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, the wages are not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the person to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, And whose sins have been covered. 8 Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.*


atonement (n.) 1510s, "condition of being at one (with others)," a sense now obsolete, from atone + -ment. Theological meaning "reconciliation" (of man with God through the life, passion, and death of Christ) is from 1520s; that of "satisfaction or reparation for wrong or injury, propitiation of an offended party" is from 1610s.

atone (v.) 1590s, "be in harmony, agree, be in accordance," from adverbial phrase atonen (c. 1300) "in accord," literally "at one," a contraction of at and one. It retains the older pronunciation of one. Meaning "make up (for errors or deficiencies)" is from 1660s; that of "make reparations" is from 1680s.

Atone. To bring at one, to reconcile, and thence to suffer the pains of whatever sacrifice is necessary to bring about a reconciliation. [Hensleigh Wedgwood, "A Dictionary of English Etymology," 1859] The phrase perhaps is modeled on Latin adunare "unite," from ad "to, at" (see ad-) + unum "one." Related: Atoned; atoning.

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