Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Atonement vs. Reconciliation

Today's Daily Lectionary reading from the Old Testament is Leviticus 16:20-34 in which instructions continue for how Aaron, as the priest of the Israelites, will deal with the sins of the people. This is where the practice of the "scape goat" is established. I've been using the newly published Common English Bible for my daily scripture reading/prayer time, and I am often pleasantly surprised by the choices made by the translators. For example, verse 30 reads, "On that day reconciliation will be made for you in order to cleanse you. You will be clean before the Lord from all your sins." In the NRSV, the word is atonement, not reconciliation. As the passage continues, Aaron continues to make reconciliation instead of atonement.

To my knowledge, this translation is the result of the input of many scholars from varied traditions, and they claim to be making an effort at an accurate, readable translation. When they vary from the Greek or Hebrew, they note that (unlike the NIV which just changes it). While some Hebrew scholars might take issue with reconciliation as a substitute word for atonement, I think it's a wonderful move. It implies the healing of an ongoing relationship rather than the payment of some debt owed. I wonder how different discussions of salvation and the removal of sins might be if we rooted ourselves in the word reconciliation instead of atonement.

For additional reading, check out Tony Jones blog series on rethinking atonement: Tony Jones Atonement