July 18, 2019

The True Meaning of Atonement

“When, in 1530, William Tyndale translated the Pentateuch, an offence against the Church for which he would pay with his life, he found there were certain Hebrew words that had no direct equivalent in English. Tyndale, who had already translated the Christian Bible into English from Greek had known no Hebrew before he started his project. He must have doubted his grasp of the language when he came across words that, as far as he could tell, had no meaning in English.

But Tyndale was both imaginative and brave, he could hardly have dared defy Henry VIII and the Bishops otherwise. If he came across a Hebrew word he couldn’t translate, he invented a new English word to explain it. Among the new words that appear for the first time in Tyndale’s Bible are network, thanksgiving, Passover, circumcised, birthright and whoremonger.

Another of Tyndale’s inventions was the word atonement. It’s how he rendered the Hebrew root c-p-r (or c-f-r) as in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The root occurs frequently in Leviticus, particularly in chapter 16 where the ancient Yom Kippur rituals are described. The Greek Septuagint had given c-p-r a sense of ‘cleansing’ while the Latin Vulgate thought it had something to do with prayer. Tyndale could see from the context here and elsewhere that neither of these words were adequate. He decided that the meaning of c-p-r was closer to the idea of being at one with God, so he invented the word at-one-ment, or atonement.”

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