[Editor: This is the seventh article in a series of excerpts from Jeffrey M. Bradshaw’s new book, entitled “Temple Themes in the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood.” Links to the full series is found at the end of this article. Color and black-and-white editions of the book are available on Amazon.com and at selected LDS Bookstores (including EbornBooks, BYU Bookstore, and the FAIR LDS Bookstore). An iBooks version is can be purchased from the Apple iBookstore. Downloadable articles and a pdf version of this book are available at www.templethemes.net
Author: In discussing temple matters, I have tried to follow the model of Hugh W. Nibley, who was, according to his biographer Boyd Jay Petersen, “respectful of the covenants of secrecy safeguarding specific portions of the LDS endowment, usually describing parallels from other cultures without talking specifically about the Mormon ceremony. This approach earned him a great deal of trust from both General Authorities and from Church members” (B. J. Petersen, Nibley, p. 354). For Nibley’s views on confidentiality as it relates to temple ordinances, see, e.g., H. W. Nibley, On the Sacred and the Symbolic, pp. 553-554, 569-572.]
Moses 5:4 tells us that Adam and Eve offered prayer after they left the Garden of Eden:
And Adam and Eve, his wife, called upon the name of the Lord, and they heard the voice of the Lord from the way toward the Garden of Eden, speaking unto them, and they saw him not; for they were shut out from his presence.
In answer to their petitions, Adam and Eve heard the Lord’s voice calling them back from their place of exile on the fallen earth. Later, He gave them additional instruction and commandments in order to set their feet back on the way toward the Garden of Eden—which is, of course, the path that terminates in “the way of the Tree of Life.” In a passage from the Midrash Tehillim, the Hebrew term teshuvah, which denotes “return” but scripturally means “repentance” or “conversion,” is used to describe the way back to the Garden, signifying “the movement that brings every thing and every being back to its supernal origin,” the “return to the celestial abode.” The spiritual movement of turning away from the sinful world and back toward mankind’s heavenly origins is mirrored in the layout of ordinance rooms in some modern temples.
A return to the presence of the Father is predicated on our oneness with Him—which presumes, in turn, oneness with our brothers and sisters: “be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.” Simply put, this kind of oneness is the ultimate meaning of, and the eventual result of, the Atonement of Christ.
After a brief discussion about the meaning of the Atonement, this article explores two forms of imagery for the Atonement that can be found in scripture. The first kind of imagery has to do with prayer. John Tvedtnes has written that “prayer opens the veil to allow one to enjoy the presence of God.” Similarly, prayer might be understood as a preparation for the enjoyment of eternal companionship between a glorified man and woman. The second form of imagery for the Atonement has to do with the symbolism of homecoming—for example, the welcome given by the father of the prodigal son.
The results of the “great and last sacrifice” of the Savior have been described in many different ways. For example, there is the term “expiate,” which means “to completely satisfy or appease; to make propitious” and the term “redeem,” which can mean to “pay a ransom to deliver a captive.” These two terms primarily address the idea of justification, the aspect of the sacrifice of Christ that enables forgiveness and release from the bondage of sin. But they do not adequately express the concept of sanctification, the complementary process by which we may be “spiritually... born of God,” having received a “mighty change in [our] hearts” and “his image” in our countenances. For, in the end, it is not enough for us to be cleansed from all sin: we must also acquire the divine attributes that fit us for the society of celestial beings.
Incorporating the meaning of each of the more limited descriptions, the term “atonement” describes both the process and the ultimate result of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It focuses attention on the most central and important concept of that sacrifice—namely, the idea of “taking two things that have become separated, estranged, or incompatible... and bringing them together again, thus making the two be ‘at one.’”
We owe the creation of the felicitous term “atonement” to William Tyndale. In his 1526 version of the New Testament, he gave an English translation of Romans 5:10-11 as follows (spelling modernized):
For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son: much more, seeing we are reconciled, we shall be preserved by his life. Not only so, but we also joy in God by the means of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have received this atonement.
Like many others of Tyndale’s memorable translations of scriptural phrases, this version became the basis for the historically dominant rendering of the text into English. In the English Bible, “atonement” is “the single word of Anglo-Saxon origin that describes a theological doctrine; other doctrinal words come from Latin, Hebrew, or Greek.”
“… to make us one with God: “One God, one Mediatour, that is to say aduocate, intercessor, or an atonemaker, between God and man.” “One mediatour Christ, … and by that word understand an atonnemaker, a peacemaker.”
The original meaning also comes through in the various early Bible commentators.Note Udal’s comment on Ephesians 2:16 which makes the intended meaning of “atone” crystal clear: “And like as he made the Jewes and Gentiles at one betwene themselfes, euen so he made them bothe at one with God, that there should be nothing to break the attonement, but that the thynges in heauen and the thinges in earth should be ioined together as it wer into one body.”
The significance of the Atonement is both intimately personal on the one hand, and a matter of cosmic scale on the other.