The Israelite Roots of Atonement Terminology | BYU Studies

The Israelite Roots of Atonement Terminology

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The Israelite Roots of Atonement Terminology

Author T. Benjamin Spackman

This article focuses on three common English terms—atonement, salvation, and redemption; their usual Hebrew equivalents as rendered in the King James Version of the Bible (KJV); and their associated conceptions found within the Hebrew Bible. In general, ancient Israelites understood redeem primarily in terms of kinship and family law and secondarily as a covenantal term. Salvation was found more often in political or martial contexts. And atonement was primarily a priestly term, dealing with ritual purity and pollution. The semantic lines between these Hebrew terms have been blurred in modern English usage, if not erased entirely; they have also become highly theological, eschatological, and heavenly, whereas their conceptual Israelite linguistic origins are often grounded in the concrete, this-worldly, and practical. The article suggests that recovering the Hebrew sources of the three terms yields more clarity about the theology of atonement.