What, then, did Paul mean by this reconciliation which is the backbone of the Church? He meant the total result of Christ’s life-work in permanently changing the relation between collective man and God. By reconciliation Paul meant the total result of Christ’s life-work in the fundamental, permanent, final changing of the relation between man and God, altering it from a relation of hostility to one of confidence and peace. Remember, I am speaking as Paul spoke, about man, and not about individual men or groups of men.
There are two principal Greek words connected with the idea of reconciliation, one of them being always translated by it, the other sometimes. They are katallassein, and hilaskesthai – reconciliation and atonement. Atonement is an Old Testament phrase, where the idea is that of the covering of sin from God’s sight. But by whom? Who was that great benefactor of the human race that succeeded in covering up our sin from God’s sight? Who was skillful enough to hoodwink the Almighty? Who covered the sin? The all-seeing God alone. There can therefore be no talk of hoodwinking. Atonement means the covering of sin by something which God Himself had provided, and therefore the covering of sin by God Himself. It was of course not the blinding of Himself to it, but something very different. How could the Judge of all the earth make His judgment blind? It was the covering of sin by something which makes it lose the power of deranging the covenant relation between God and man and founds the new Humanity. That is the meaning of it.
If you think I am talking theology, you must blame the New Testament. I am simply expounding to you the New Testament. Of course, you need not take it unless you please. It is quite open to you to throw the New Testament overboard (so long as you are frank about it), and start what you may loosely call Christianity on the floating lines. But if you take the New Testament you are bound to try to understand the New Testament. If you understand the New Testament you are bound to recognize that this is what the New Testament says. It is a subsequent question whether the New Testament is right in saying so. Let us first find out what the Bible really says, and then discuss whether the Bible is right or wrong.