Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

d. ST006/4 New Testament Teaching


The Teaching of the New Testament

The New Testament completes the picture given in the Old Testament and brings us to the fulfilment in the Person of Christ of all that the Old Testament foreshadowed in type and predicted in prophecy.

Thus we read that Christ died according to the Scriptures (I Cor,15:3 and Luke 24:46). It is likewise clear from the New Testament that Christ's death was a voluntary one (John 10:17-18 and elsewhere).

He came into the world with the specific purpose of giving His life for mankind; it was the great end for which He was born. He was not merely a martyr to the truth; His death was sacrificial and propitiatory.

The plainest statement concerning the purpose and meaning of Christ's death is found in the Epistle to the Romans (ch. 3:21-26). The words used here are those of the Old Testament sacrificial language and can mean nothing else than that Christ's death was regarded by the apostle Paul as a propitiatory sacrifice whereby God could be just and yet still be the justifier of all those who put their faith in that propitiatory sacrifice.

In dealing with the New Testament teaching it will be best to consider first the various terms used and then say a word in addition about the vicarious nature of His death and about the motive for the Atonement.

(a) New Testament Terminology

The New Testament speaks of Christ's death in three ways, and, as to its results, in three directions,

  1. Propitiation, Godward;
  2. Redemption, manward;
  3. Reconciliation, Godward and manward.

In the first instance the sinner is guilty and exposed to the wrath of God but in Christ his guilt is expiated and the wrath of God propitiated.

In the second, the sinner is under the bondage of Satan and Sin but through the redemptive price of the blood of Christ, he is delivered from bondage and set at liberty.

In the third, the sinner is estranged from God, but is reconciled by Christ's death on the cross.

An easy way to summarize the first is,

  1. Guilt - wrath - expiation - propitiation;
  2. The second is bondage - redemption - liberty;
  3. The third is estrangement - reconciliation.

These three classes of term, however, need to be investigated more thoroughly.


Propitiation is a term drawn from the "Kapporeth" or Mercy Seat used in the Old Testament. To propitiate means to appease the wrath of an offended person or to atone for offences committed.

The Greek equivalent in the New Testament is the word "hilasterion". This is the word used to translate "Kapporeth or Mercy Seat" in the Old Testament. It is used in Rom.3:25, "whom God bath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood". In other words Christ is our Mercy Seat with all that that meant in the Old Testament.

Christ is our propitiatory offering. A kindred word "hilasmos" is also used. This occurs in
I John 2:2 and 4:10. It means an appeasing or something offered to appease, a propitiation. Again it cannot be separated from the associations of the Old Testament. The verb from these words is used in Hebrews 2:17 where the High Priest is said to "make propitiation for the sins of the people". This again is spoken of Christ.

As Harriack says "There is an inner law that compels the sinner to look upon God as a wrathful Judge", and the terms used in the New Testament reveal the fact that Christ's death in the minds of the writers was of such a nature as to propitiate God's wrath against sin and make it possible for God to pardon and save man without doing destpite to His essential nature of holiness.


There are two classes of word used in the New Testament to express this aspect of the Atonement. One is connected with the Greek word "lutroo" which means the act of setting a person free from captivity through the payment of a "lutron" or ransom or redemption price.

The other is connected with the normal Greek word for purchasing something in the market "agorazo". Words of the first class are used in the following passages, Mark 10:45; Matthew .20:28; I Tim.2:6; Titus 2:14; I Pet.1:18; Eph.1:7; Co1.1:14; Heb.9:15; Rom.3:24; I Cor,1:30. The other class is represented by the following, I Cor.6:20; Gal.3:13; I Cor.7:23; Gal.4:4,5; Rev.5:9.

These two classes of word are very important in the understanding of the nature of the Atonement. Two points stand out clearly.

  1. First, the ransom price paid for our redemption is the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  2. Secondly, the ransom price secured for mankind deliverance from the bondage of sin in the fullest sense of the word.

This deliverance is from the curse of the law (Gal.3:13), from the law itself (Gal.4:4,5, Romans 6:14), from the power of sin (John 8:34, Romans .6:12-23) and from the power of Satan (Hebrews 2:15). It is a full deliverance in the sense that "Christ does not lay down the purchase price merely to redeem us from wrath and release us to our own ways. He ransoms us back into His own rights over us, which thus marks the connection between His priestly and His Kingly offices." (Wiley II p.294).

William Barclay in his New Testament Word Book brings out the implication of this class of New Testament word in the following statements:-

  1. They all imply that man was in captivity, in slavery, in subjection to an alien power. There was something which had man in its grip.
  2. They all imply that by no conceivable means could man have offected his own liberation or rescue. He was helpless in the grip of a power and a situation which he could not mend and from which he could not break away.
  3. His liberation was effected by the coming of Jesus Christ Who paid the price which was necessary to achieve it.
  4. Nowhere in the New Testament is there any word of to whom that price was paid. It could not have been paid to God because all the time God was so loving the world. It was in fact God's love that sent Christ into this world. It could not have been paid to the devil for that would put the devil on an equality with God.

All that we can say is this, it cost the life and death of Christ to liberate man from the past, the present and the future power of sin. Beyond that we cannot go, but although thought may be baffled, experience shows that it cost the life of Jesus Christ to bring us home to God.


The words "katallasso" and "apokatallasso" which are translated "reconcile" in the New Testament primarily meant to change from one state to another. They thus came to mean a change from a state of enmity to that of friendship and fellowship and thus "to reconcile".

This is their specific use in the New Testament in connection with the work of Christ. The three main passages concerning reconciliation are,

  1. Rom.5:10-11 "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only so; but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement (or reconciliation - R,V.)".
  2. Col„1:21-22 "And you that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreprovable in His sight."
  3. 2 Cor.5:18-19 "All things are of God who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation."

From these verses there are some points which must be noted.

  1. The reconciliation between God and man is effected by the death of Christ.
  2. The reconciliation means more than merely man's laying aside his enmity against God. The relation is a judicial one and there has to be a reconciliation on God's side too. This is shown first by the words "not imputing their trespasses unto them" in the Corinthian passage; and second by the fact that the reconciliation is spoken of as being received in the Roman passage, for that which is merely laid aside is not received; to be received it must come from the side of God; and third by other passages in the Scriptures which speak of the anger of God against sinners. As pointed out previously this does not mean that God feels any hatred or bitterness against the sinner; it was His very love which provided the way of reconciliation, it was "love outloving love".
  3. The reconciliation refers likewise to a state of peace set up between God and man as a whole through the work of Christ on the Cross. Christ is "our peace" and "through the vicarious sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, God reconciled the world to Himself, removing from it, as a world, His displeasure. Thus a general peace was established as a basis for God's acceptance of the believer into the rights and privileges of the new order." (Wiley II p.292). This is "the word of reconciliation which we preach" and the acceptance of this reconciliation in faith by the individual brings him into a personal state of righteousness and peace.

(b) The Vicarious Nature of the Atonement

The word "vicarious'` means "in the place of" or "instead of" and to say that Christ's death was a vicarious one implies that He died instead of us and in our place. In the words of Watson "Christ died in our room and stead, or as a proper substitute for us." There are two Greek prepositions which are translated "for" in the New Testament and there has been a great deal of argument as to whether they really mean "instead of" or only "on behalf of" or "on account of".

One of them, "anti" is rarely used in other sense than "instead of". It is used twice in connection with the atonement in words spoken by our Lord in Matt.20:28 and Mark 10:45. In both cases it clearly means "instead of". The other word is "huper" which is used far more frequently.

"It is expedient for us that one man should die for the people" (John 11:50). "Christ died for the ungodly. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom.5:6-8). "If one died for all then were all dead. And that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him that died for them and rose again.

For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor.5:14,15,21), "who gave Himself for our sins" (Gal.1:4). (Cf. also Gal.3:13; Eph.5:2,25; I Thess.5:9,10; Heb.2:9). It is true that this word can mean "on behalf or account of" and in some cases it obviously does, as in Gal.1:4. But there are other cases where it clearly means "instead of" or "in the place of".

This is so in John 11:50 quoted above, and is also the only possible meaning that can be given in Rom.5:6-8 to fit the context. These facts plus the whole implication of the sacrificial terminology places the fact of the New Testament teaching concerning the vicarious quality of our Lord's death on the cross beyond doubt.

There is one other verse of Scripture which should be noted which combines both prepositions and makes the meaning of "huper" quite clear, at least in this passage. The verse is I Tim.2:6 - "who gave Himself a ransom for all". Here the preposition "huper" is used before "all" and "anti" is attached as a strengthening term to "ransom". Literally, therefore, it means "Who gave Himself a vicarious-ransom for all".

(c) The Motivating Cause of the Atonement.

As has been pointed out more than once already, the motive behind the work of Christ on the cross was the love of God. The atonement found its source in the heart of God. This is shown plainly in such texts as John 3:16; Rom.5:8 and I John 4:9. The atonement is the provision and expression of God's righteous love, not in any sense the producing cause of that love.

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