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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words

Atone

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A. Verb.

Kâphar (כָּפַר, Strong's #3722), “to cover over, atone, propitiate, pacify.” This root is found in the Hebrew language at all periods of its history, and perhaps is best known from the term Yom Kippur, “Day of Atonement.” Its verbal forms occur approximately 100 times in the Hebrew Bible. Kâphar is first found in Gen. 6:14, where it is used in its primary sense of “to cover over.” Here God gives Noah instructions concerning the ark, including, “Cover it inside and out with pitch” (RSV). (The KJV translates, “Pitch it within and without with pitch.”)Most uses of the word, however, involve the theological meaning of “covering over,” often with the blood of a sacrifice, in order to atone for some sin. It is not clear whether this means that the “covering over” hides the sin from God’s sight or implies that the sin is wiped away in this process.

As might be expected, this word occurs more frequently in the Book of Leviticus than in any other book, since Leviticus deals with the ritual sacrifices that were made to atone for sin. For example, Lev. 4:13-21 gives instructions for bringing a young bull to the tent of meeting for a sin offering. After the elders laid their hands on the bull (to transfer the people’s sin to the bull), the bull was killed. The priest then brought some of the blood of the bull into the tent of meeting and sprinkled it seven times before the veil. Some of the blood was put on the horns of the altar and the rest of the blood was poured at the base of the altar of burnt offering. The fat of the bull was then burned on the altar. The bull itself was to be burned outside the camp. By means of this ritual, “the priest shall make an atonement [kâphar] for them, and it shall be forgiven them” (Lev. 4:20).

The term “atonement” is found at least 16 times in Lev. 16, the great chapter concerning the Day of Atonement. Before anything else, the high priest had to “make atonement” for himself and his house by offering a bull as a sin offering. After lots were cast upon the two goats, one was sent away into the wilderness as an atonement (v. 10), while the other was sacrificed and its blood sprinkled on the mercy seat as an atonement for the people (vv. 15-20). The Day of Atonement was celebrated only once a year. Only on this day could the high priest enter the holy of holies of the tabernacle or temple on behalf of the people of Israel and make atonement for them.

Sometimes atonement for sin was made apart from or without blood offerings. During his vision-call experience, Isaiah’s lips were touched with a coal of fire taken from the altar by one of the seraphim. With that, he was told, “Thy sin is purged [kâphar]” (Isa. 6:7). The English versions translate the word variously as “purged” (KJV, JB); “forgiven” (RSV, NASB, TEV); and “wiped away” (NEB). In another passage, Scripture says that the guilt or iniquity of Israel would be “purged” (KJV, NEB) by the destruction of the implements of idolatrous worship (Isa. 27:9). In this case, the RSV renders kapar as “expiated,” while the NASB and TEV translate it as “forgiven.”

B. Noun.

Kappôreth (כַּפֹּרֶת, Strong's #3727), “mercy seat; throne of mercy.” This noun form of kapar has been variously interpreted by the English versions as “mercy seat” (KJV, RSV); “cover” (NEB); “lid” (TEV); “throne of mercy” (JB); and “throne” (Knox). It refers to a slab of gold that rested on top of the ark of the covenant. Images of two cherubims stood on this slab, facing each other. This slab of gold represented the throne of God and symbolized His real presence in the worship shrine. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest sprinkled the blood of the sin offering on it, apparently symbolizing the blood’s reception by God. Thus the Kappôreth was the central point at which Israel, through its high priest, could come into the presence of God.
This is further seen in the fact that the temple proper was distinguished from its porches and other accompanying structures by the name “place of the mercy seat (Kappôreth)” (1 Chron. 28:11). The Septuagint refers to the mercy seat as a “propitiary” (hilasteirion).

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Atone'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/vot/a/atone.html. 1940.

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