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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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lxxvii. ἀπολύτρωσις, καταλλαγή, ἱλασμός.

There are three grand circles of images, by aid of which are set forth to us in the Scriptures of the N. T. the inestimable benefits of Christ’s death and passion. Transcending, as these benefits do, all human thought, and failing to find anywhere a perfectly adequate expression in human language, they must still be set forth by the help of language, and through the means of human relations. Here, as in other similar cases, what the Scripture does is to approach the central truth from different quarters; to exhibit it not on one side but on many, that so these may severally supply the deficiencies of one another, and that moment of the truth which one does not express, another may. The words here grouped together, ἀπολύτρωσις or ‘redemption,’ καταλλαγή or ‘reconciliation,’ ἱλασμός or ‘propitiation,’ are the capital words summing up three such families of images; to one or other of which almost every word and phrase directly bearing on this work of our salvation through Christ may be more or less nearly referred.

Ἀπολύτρωσις is the form of the word which St. Paul invariably prefers, λύτρωσις occurring in the N. T. only at Luke 1:68; 2:38; Heb. 9:12. Chrysostom (upon Rom. 3:24), drawing attention to this, observes that by this ἀπό the Apostle would express the completeness of our redemption in Christ Jesus, a redemption which no later bondage should follow: καὶ οὐχ ἁπλῶς εἶπε, λυτρώσεως ἀλλ᾽ ἀπολυτρώσεως, ὡς μηκέτι ἡμᾶς ἐπανελθεῖν λάλιν ἐπὶ τὴν αὐτὴν δουλείαν. In this he has right, and there is the same force in the ἀπό of ἀποκαταλλάσσειν (Ephes. 2:16; Col. 1:20, 22), which is ‘prorsus reconciliare’ (see Fritzsche on Rom. 5:10), of ἀποκαραδοκία and ἀπεκδέχεσθαι (Rom. 8:19). Both ἀπολύτρωσις (not in the Septuagint, but ἀπολυτρόω twice, Exod. 21:8; Zeph. 3:1) and λύτρωσις are late words in the Greek language, Rost and Palm (Lexicon) giving no earlier authority for them than Plutarch (Arat. 11; Pomp. 24); while λυτρωτής seems peculiar to the Greek Scriptures (Lev. 25:31; Ps. 18 [LXX] 15; Acts 7:35).

When Theophylact defines ἀπολύτρωσις as ἡ ἀπὸ τῆς αἰχμαλωσίας ἐπανάκλησις, he overlooks one most important element in the word; for ἀπολύτρωσις is not recall from captivity merely, as he would imply, but recall of captives from captivity through the payment of a ransom for them; cf. Origen on Rom. 3:24. The idea of deliverance through a λύτρον or ἀντάλλαγμα (Matt. 16:26; cf. Ecclus. 6:15; 26:14), a price paid, though in actual use it may often disappear from words of this family (thus see Isai. 35:9), is yet central to them (1 Pet. 1:18, 19; Isai. 52:3). Keeping this in mind, we shah find connect themselves with ἀπολύτρωσις a whole group of most significant words; not only λύτρον (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45), ἀντιλύτρον (1 Tim. 2:6), λυτροῦν (Tit. 2:14; 1 Pet. 1:18), λύτρωσις (Heb. 9:12), but also ἀγοράζειν (1 Cor. 6:20) and ἐξαγοράζειν (Gal. 3:13; 4:5). Here indeed is a point of contact with ἱλασμός, for the λύτρον paid in this ἀπολύτρωσις is identical with the προσφορά or θυσία by which that ἱλασμός is effected. There also link themselves with ἀπολύτρωσις all those statements of Scripture which speak of sin as slavery, and of sinners as slaves (Rom. 6:17, 20; John 8:34; 2 Pet. 2:19); of deliverance from sin as freedom, or cessation of bondage (John 8:33, 36; Rom. 8:21; Gal. 5:1).

Καταλλαγή, occurring four times in the N. T., only occurs once in the Septuagint, and once in the Apocrypha. On one of these occasions, namely at Isai. 9:5, it is simply exchange; on the other (2 Macc. 5:20) it is employed in the N. T. sense, being opposed to the ὀργὴ τοῦ Θεοῦ, and expressing the reconciliation, the εὐμένεια of God to his people. There can be no question that συναλλαγή (Ezek. 16:8, Aquila) and συναλλάσσειν (Acts 7:26), διαλλαγή (Ecclus. 22:23; 27:21; cf. Aristophanes, Acharn. 988) and διαλλάσσειν (in the N. T. only at Matt. 5:24; cf. Judg. 19:3; 1 Esdr. 4:31; Euripides, Hel. 1235), are more usual words in the earlier and classical periods of the language;1 but for all this the grammarians are wrong who denounce καταλλαγή and καταλλάσσειν as words avoided by all who wrote the language in its highest purity. None need be ashamed of words which found favour with aeschylus (Sept. Con. Theb. 767), with Xenophon (Anab. i. 6. 2) and with Plato (Phoed. 69 a). Fritzache (on Rom. 5:10) has effectually disposed of Tittmann’s fanciful distinction between καταλλάσσειν and διαλλάσσειν.

The Christian καταλλαγή has two sides. It is first a reconciliation, ‘quâ Deus nos sibi reconciliavit,’ laid aside his holy anger against our sins, and received us into favour, a reconciliation effected for us once for all by Christ upon his cross; so 2 Cor. 5:18, 19; Rom. 5:10; where καταλλάσσεσθαι is a pure passive, ‘ab eo in gratiam recipi apud quem in odio fueras.’ But καταλλαγή is secondly and subordinately the reconciliation, ‘quâ nos Deo reconciliamur,’ the daily deposition, under the operation of the Holy Spirit, of the enmity of the old man toward God. In this passive middle sense καταλλάσσεσθαι is used, 2 Cor. 5:20; cf. 1 Cor. 7:11. All attempts to make this secondary to be indeed the primary meaning and intention of the word, rest not on an unprejudiced exegesis, but on a foregone determination to get rid of the reality of God’s anger against the sinner. With καταλλαγή is connected all that language of Scripture which describes sin as a state of enmity (ἔχθρα) with God (Rom. 8:7; Ephes. 2:15; Jam. 4:4), and sinners as enemies to Him and alienated from Him (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21); which sets forth Christ on the cross as the Peace, and the maker of peace between God and man (Ephes. 2:14; Col. 1:20); all such invitations as this, “Be ye reconciled with God” (2 Cor. 5:20).

Before leaving καταλλαγή we observe that the exact relations between it and ἱλασμός, which will have to be considered next, are somewhat confused for the English reader, from the fact that the word ‘atonement,’ by which our Translators have once rendered καταλλαγή (Rom. 5:11), has little by little shifted its meaning. It has done this so effectually, that were the translation now for the first time to be made, and words to be employed in their present sense and not in their past, ‘atonement’ would plainly be a much fitter rendering of ἱλασμός, the notion of propitiation, which we shall find the central one of ἱλασμός, always lying in ‘atonement’ as we use it now. It was not so once. When our Translation was made, it signified, as innumerable examples prove, reconciliation, or the making up of a foregoing enmity; all its uses in our early literature justifying the etymology now sometimes called into question, that ‘atonement’ is ‘at-one-ment,’ and therefore == ‘reconciliation’: and that consequently it was then, although not now, the proper rendering of καταλλαγή (see my Select Glossary, s. vv. ‘atone,’ ‘atonement’; and, dealing with these words at full, Skeat, Etym. Dict. of the English Language, s. v., an article which leaves no doubt as to their history).

Ἱλασμός is found twice in the First Epistle of St. John (2:2; 4:10); nowhere else in the N. T.: for other examples of its use see Plutarch, Sol. 12; Fab. Max. 18; Camil. 7: θεῶν μῆνις ἱλασμοῦ καὶ χαριστηρίων δεομένη. I am inclined to think that the excellent word ‘propitiation,’ by which our Translators have rendered it, did not exist in the language when the earlier Reformed Versions were made. Tyndale, the Geneva, and Cranmer have “to make agreement, ” instead of ‘to be the propitiation,’ at the first of these places; “He that obtaineth grace” at the second. In the same way ἱλαστήριον, which we, though I think wrongly (see Theol. Stud. und Krit. 1842, p. 314), have also rendered ‘propitiation’ (Rom. 3:25), is rendered in translations which share in our error, ‘the obtainer of mercy’ (Cranmer), ‘a pacification’ (Geneva); and first ‘propitiation’ in the Rheims—the Latin tendencies of this translation giving it boldness to transfer this word from the Vulgate. Neither is ἱλασμός of frequent use in the Septuagint; yet in such passages as Num. 5:8; Ezek. 44:27; cf. 2 Macc. 3:33, it is being prepared for the more solemn use which it should obtain in the N. T. Connected with ἵλεως, ‘propitius,’ ἱλάσκεσθαι, ‘placare,’ ‘iram avertere,’ ‘ex irato mitem reddere,’ it is by Hesychius explained, not incorrectly (for see Dan. 9:9; Ps. 129:4), but inadequately, by the following synonyms, εὐμένεια, συγχώρησις, διαλλαγή καταλλαγή, πραότης. I say inadequately, because in none of these words thus offered as equivalents, does there lie what is inherent in ἱλασμός and ἱλάσκεσθαι, namely, that the εὐμένεια or goodwill has been gained by means of some offering, or other ‘placamen’ (cf. Herodotus, vi. 105; viii. 112; Xenophon, Cyrop. vii. 2. 19; and Nägelsbach, Nachhomer. Theol. vol. i. p. 37). The word is more comprehensive than ἱλάστης, which Grotius proposes as covering the same ground. Christ does not propitiate only, as ἱλάστης would say, but at once propitiates, and is Himself the propitiation. To speak in the language of the Epistle to the Hebrews, in the offering of Himself He is both at once, ἀρχιερεύς and θυσία or προσφορά (for the difference between these latter see Mede, Works, 1672, p. 360), the two functions of priest and sacrifice, which were divided, and of necessity divided, in the typical sacrifices of the law, meeting and being united in Him, the sin-offering by and through whom the just anger of God against our sins was appeased, and God, without compromising his righteousness, enabled to show Himself propitious to us once more. All this the word ἱλασμός, used of Christ, declares. Cocceius: ‘Est enim ἁλασμός mors sponsoris obita ad sanctificationem Dei, volentis peccata condonare; atque ita tollendam condemnationem.’

It will be seen that with ἱλασμός connect themselves a larger group of words and images than with either of the words preceding—all, namely, which set forth the benefits of Christ’s death as a propitiation of God, even as all which speak of Him as a sacrifice, an offering (Ephes. 5:2; Heb. 10:14; 1 Cor. 5:7), as the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36; 1 Pet. 1:19), as the Lamb slain (Rev. 5:6, 8), and a little more remotely, but still in a lineal consequence from these last, all which describe Him as washing us in his blood (Rev. 1:5). As compared with καταλλαγή (== to the German ‘Versöhnung’), ἱλασμός (== to ‘Versühnung’) is the deeper word, goes nearer to the innermost heart of the matter. If we had only καταλλαγή and the group of words and images which cluster round it, to set forth the benefits of the death of Christ, these would indeed set forth that we were enemies, and by that death were made friends; but how made friends καταλλαγή would not describe at all. It would not of itself necessarily imply satisfaction, propitiation, the Daysman, the Mediator, the High Priest; all which in ἱλασμός are involved (see two admirable articles, ‘Erlösung’ and ‘Versöhnung,’ by Schoeberlein, in Herzog’s Real-Encyclopädie). I conclude this discussion with Bengel’s excellent note on Rom. 3:24: ‘ἱλασμός (expiatio sive propitiatio) et ἀπολύτρωσις (redemtio) est in fundo rei unicum beneficium, scilicet, restitutio peccatoris perditi. Ἀπολύτρωσις est respectu hostium, et καταλλαγή est respectu Dei. Atque hic voces. ἱλασμός et καταλλαγή iterum differunt. Ἰλασμός (propitiatio)

tollit offensam contra Deum; καταλλαγή (reconciliatio) est δίπλευρος et tollit (a) indignationem Dei adversum nos, 2 Cor. 5:19 (b), nostramque abalienationem a Deo, 2 Cor. 5:20.’


1 Christ according to Clement of Alexander (Coh. ad Gen. 10) is διαλακτὴς καὶ σωτὴρ ἡμῶν.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G2434,G2643,G629.]

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