Understanding The Bible
Clarence E. Mason's "Soteriology"


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Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible


    1. The word "atonement" is a translator's interpretation rather than a translation of the actual meaning of the word itself.
    2. The word "atonement" occurs 78 times in the AV, 77 times in the Old Testament and once in the New Testament (Rom. 5:11), and that by mistake.

      In the American Standard Version, the New Testament reference (Rom. 5:11) is translated correctly "reconciliation. " Dr. Scofield says it is to be regretted on every account that the revisers did not also eliminate the word "atonement" from the Old Testament, where it invariably means "covering, " "coverings, " "cover, " or " "to cover." The Hebrew word is "kaphar. " It is an Old Testament word exclusively.

      Lookup: Ex. 29:36-37; 30:10,15-16; 32:30-35; Lev. 1:4; 4:20,26,31, 35; 5:6,10,13,16,18
    3. The sacrifices of the Old Testament did not "take away sin, " Heb. 10:1-4.
    4. The Biblical meaning of "atonement" is nothing more than "to cover." The theological meaning is "the taking away of sin or the complete satisfaction for our sin. " Only the Lord Jesus Christ could make full satisfaction for our sin.

      The Old Testament sacrifices made "a covering" for sin and secured forgiveness if offered in faith. The sacrificer acknowledged his sin and his just desert which is death. But it took the sacrifice of Christ to remove the sinner's sin.
    5. Interesting Scriptural comments: Rom. 3:25; Acts 17:30; Ps. 78:38.
    1. The accident theory holds that the cross was something UNFORESEEN in the life of Christ. Calvary was not in the plan of God for His Son. Christ's death was an accident, as unforeseen and unexpected as the death of any other martyr was unforeseen and unexpected. This theory would make the death of Christ something not contained in the Divine plan, and would make the Lord Jesus Christ a victim of circumstances.


      1. This theory limits the omniscience of God.
        1 Jn. 3:20; Isa. 46:9-10; Acts 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:18-20
      2. According to Revelation 13:8, Christ was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, thus refuting that it was not in the Divine plan.
      3. Christ's death was not unexpected, but very definitely planned. Gal. 4:4-5, "fullness of time"; Acts 2:23
      4. Christ gave evidence that He knew of His death by foretelling it again and again. Mt. 16:21; Jn. 10:17-18
      5. The Scriptures contain many predictions of His death. Isa. 53:5-6; Lk. 24:26-27,44
    2. The martyr theory holds that:
      Christ's death was the same as that of any other noble man who has given his life as a sacrifice for a principle and for truth. His faithfulness would argue for similar devotion to truth and principle on our part, even to the point of willingness to suffer for our convictions like Christ.


      1. Then Christ should have so declared Himself. Jn. 12:32-33; 14:1-3
      2. Paul should have been more explicit.
        1 Cor. 15:1-3; 1 Tim. 3:16; Eph. 5:25,27
      3. Why didn't Christ have the comfort that martyrs receive? Lk. 22:39-46;
        cp. Phil. 1:23; Acts 7:60. Paul distinguishes between the death of Stephen and the death of Christ. He never preached salvation by the death of Stephen.

        This view may make martyrs, but it will never save sinners.
    3. The moral example theory holds that
      Christ's death has an influence upon mankind for moral improvement. "The example of His suffering ought to soften human hearts and help a man to reform, repent, and better his condition. So they teach that God grants pardon and forgiveness on the basis of simple repentance and reformation." Evans - Great Doctrines of the Bible, p. 75


      1. This theory does not deal with the question of sin.
      2. It confines the influence of the death of Christ to those who have heard it, thus excluding heathen. Thus, Christ could not have died for the world.
      3. The knowledge of Christ's suffering alone does not so affect men today, nor did it affect the Jews of Christ's day.
      4. It embraces a valuable element of truth, but it fails to emphasize properly the primary accomplishment of the death of Christ, Mt. 26:28.
    4. The governmental theory holds that the benevolence of God requires that He should make an example of suffering in Christ in order to exhibit to man that sin is displeasing in His sight. God's government of the world necessitates that He show His wrath against sin.


      1. God has shown His displeasure at sin before, Gen. 19:24-25; 6:13.
      2. Why didn't God take a guilty man and make an example of him instead of the sinless Son of God?
      3. The actual power of the death of Christ over the human conscience is due, not to its exhibiting God's regard for law, but to its exhibiting an actual execution of law, and an actual satisfaction for the violated holiness of God accomplished when Christ died in the sinner's stead, Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:25; 3:18.
    5. The love of God theory holds that Christ died to show men how much God loved them, so that ever after they would know the feeling of the heart of God toward them.


      1. The death of Christ is a provision for salvation from sin's guilt and penalty. The Scriptures which speak of God's love as being manifested in the gift of Christ also give another reason, Jn. 3:16; IJn. 4:10; 1 Pet. 3:18.
      2. This theory has an element of truth, but it is not the whole truth. The Old Testament is full of the love of God, Ex. 20:6. Man could know the love of God apart from the cross.
    6. The substitutionary theory holds that Christ's death was in my room and stead. He bore the penalty I deserved.

      "The story of the Passover lamb (Ex. 12), with 1 Corinthians 5:7, illustrates the meaning of substitution as here used: one life given in the stead of an­other. 'The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all' (Isa. 53:6). God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree; this is substitution (1 Pet. 2:24). Christ died in our place, bore our sins, paid the penalty due our sins (1 Pet. 3:18); and all this, not by force, but willingly (Jn. 10:17-18). The idea of substitution is well illustrated by the nature of the preposition used in connection with this phase of Christ's death: In Matthew 20:28 Christ is said to give His life a ransom for all (also 1 Tim. 2:6). That this prep­osition means instead of is clear from its use in Matthew 2:22: 'Archelaus did reign in the room (or in the stead) of his father, Herod.' Also in Luke 11:11; 'Will he for a fish give him a serpent?' (See Hebrews 12:2,16.) Substitution then, as used here, means this: That something happened to Christ, and because it happened to Christ, it need not happen to me. Christ died for my sins; I need not die for them if I accept His sacrifice. For further illustrations, see Genesis 22:13, where God provides a ram to sacrifice in the place of Isaac; also, Barabbas was freed and Christ bore his cross, taking his place."
      Evans - Great Doctrines of the Bible, pp. 72-73

      Upon a life I did not live;
      Upon a death I did not die;
      Another's life, another's death,
      I stake my whole eternity.


    1. The holiness of God demanded it because of the sinfulness of man, Nah. 1:2-3; Heb. 12:29.
    2. To display the glory of His righteousness, Rom. 3:24-26; Gen. 18:25; Rev. 19:2a.

    "Atonement" is, a word used in the Authorized and Revised Versions of the English Old Testament as the translation of the Hebrew words signifying "to cover" and "coverings, " in relation to the effect of the Levitical offerings upon the sins of the offerers.

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