Reconcile; Reconciliation

rek'-on-sil, rek-on-sil-i-a'-shun (@katallasso], katallage, also the compound form apokatallasso; once the cognate diallassomai is used in Mt 5:24):

1. The Terms

(1) New Testament Usage

(2) Old Testament Usage

(3) Special Passage in 1Sa 29:4

(4) Usage in the Apocrypha

2. Non-doctrinal Passage--Mt 5:24

3. Doctrinal Passages

(1) Ro 5:1-21

(2) 2Co 5:18-20

(3) Eph 2:16

(4) Col 1:20-22


1. The Terms:

(1) New Testament Usage.

In the last case, Mt 5:24, the word is not used in a doctrinal sense, though its use is very helpful in considering the force of the other terms. All the other instances are in Paul's Epistles (Ro 5:10; 1Co 7:11; 2Co 5:18-20, the verb; Ro 5:11; 11:15; 2Co 5:18-19, the noun; Eph 2:16; Col 1:22, the compound). The word "reconcile" has a double meaning and usage, and the context must in each case determine how it is to be taken. The great doctrine is the reconciliation of God and men, but the question to be decided is whether it is God who is reconciled to men, or men who are reconciled to God, and different schools of theology emphasize one side or the other. The true view embraces both aspects. The word "to reconcile" means literally to exchange, to bring into a changed relationship. Some maintain that it is only a change in the sinner that is intended, a laying aside of his enmity, and coming into peaceful relations with God. But that manifestly does not exhaust the meaning, nor is it in the great Pauline passages the primary and dominant meaning.

(2) Old Testament Usage.

The Old Testament usage does not materially help in the elucidation of the New Testament terms, for though the word occurs in a number of passages in the King James Version, it is in the Revised Version (British and American) generally changed to "atonement," which more accurately represents the Hebrew kaphar, which is generally rendered by "atonement," and by hilaskomai or exilaskomai in the Greek (In one passage of the New Testament (Heb 2:17), the phrase "to make reconciliation" represents the Greek hilaskomai, and is better rendered in the Revised Version (British and American) by "to make propitiation.") The making atonement or propitiation is the basis of the reconciliation, the means of its accomplishment, and the fact that the translators of the King James Version sometimes rendered kaphar by "reconcile" shows that they understood reconciliation to have the Godward aspect. Whatever may be said of the nature of the atonement or propitiation in the old dispensation, it was something contemplated as appeasing or satisfying, or at least in some way affecting God so as to make Him willing, or render it possible for Him, to enter into, or abide in, gracious relations with men. In one passage in the Old Testament where "reconciliation" occurs (2Ch 29:24) it represents a different Hebrew word, but here the Revised Version (British and American) has changed it into "sin-offering," which is in harmony with the general meaning and usage of the Hebrew.

(3) Special Passage in 1 Samuel 29:4.

There is yet another Hebrew word rendered "reconcile" in 1Sa 29:4, and inasmuch as this passage in the Septuagint has as the equivalent of the Hebrew the Greek word diallasso, it is of some importance in guiding to the New Testament meaning. On one occasion when the Philistines gathered together to battle against Israel, David and his band of men accompanied Achish king of Gath to the muster-place. "The princes of the Philistines" did not at all appreciate the presence of "these Hebrews," and although Achish testified in favor of David's fidelity, they were very indignant, and demanded that David and his men be sent back, "lest in the battle he become an adversary to us: for wherewith should this fellow reconcile himself unto his lord? should it not be with the heads of these men?" The Hebrew is ratsah, which means "to be pleased with" or "to accept favorably," and the Hithpael form here used is "to make himself pleasing or acceptable," "to reconcile himself." But assuredly the Philistines' idea of David reconciling himself to Saul was not that he should lay aside his enmity against Saul, and so become friends with him. The enmity was on Saul's side, and the thought of the princes was that David by turning against them in the battle would gratify Saul, and lead him to lay aside his enmity against David.

(4) Usage in the Apocrypha.

It may be noted that in 2 Macc 5:20, katallage is used evidently of the Godward side: "And the place which was forsaken in the wrath of the Almighty was, at the reconciliation of the great Sovereign, restored again with all glory." The verb occurs in 2 Macc 1:5 when again the Godward side seems intended, though not perhaps so certainly: "May God .... hearken to your supplications, and be reconciled with you," and in 7:33: "If for rebuke and chastening our living Lord has been angered a little while, yet shall he again be reconciled with his own servants," and 8:29: "They besought the merciful Lord to be wholly reconciled with his servants." In these two, especially the last, it is unquestionably the laying aside of the divine displeasure that is meant.

2. Non-doctrinal Passage--Matthew 5:24:

Before passing on to look at the great utterances in the Epistles, we may now look at the non-doctrinal passage referred to at the beginning. There is, indeed, another non-doctrinal instance in 1Co 7:11, where the wife who has departed from her husband is enjoined either to "remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband." But as it is indeterminate whether the wife or the husband is the offending party, and so which is the one to be influenced, the passage does not help us much. But Mt 5:24 is a very illuminating passage. Here as in the passage from 1 Samuel, the word used is diallasso, but it is practically identified in meaning with katallasso. The injunction is given by Christ to the one who is at variance with his brother, not to complete his offering until first he has been reconciled to his brother. But the whole statement shows that it is not a question of the one who is offering the gift laying aside his enmity against his brother, but the reverse. Christ says, "If therefore thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest (not that thou hast a grudge against thy brother but) that thy brother hath aught against thee"--the brother was the offended one, he is the one to be brought round--"leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." Plainly it means that he should do something to remove his brother's displeasure and so bring about a reconciliation.

3. Doctrinal Passages:

(1) Romans 5.

Turning now to Ro 5:1-21, how stands the matter? Paul has been speaking of the blessed results of justification; one of these results is the shedding abroad of the love of God in the heart. Then he dwells upon the manifestation of that love in the death of Christ, a love that was displayed to the loveless, and he argues that if in our sinful and unloving state we were embraced by the love of God, a fortiori that love will not be less now that it has already begun to take effect. If He loved us when we were under His condemnation sufficiently to give His Son to die for our salvation, much more shall His love bestow upon us the blessings secured by that death. "Much more then, being now justified by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through him" (Ro 5:9).

(a) The Fact of Divine Wrath:

It is well to note, then, that there is "wrath" on the part of God against sin and sinners. One of the key-thoughts of the apostle in this epistle is that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (Ro 1:18), and the coming day of judgment is "the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" (Ro 2:5). And because of this stern fact, the gospel is a revelation not only of love, but specifically "a righteousness of God" (Ro 1:17). And he shows that the essence of the gospel is found in the propitiatory death of the Lord Jesus Christ (Ro 3:24-25,26), through whom alone can men who have been "brought under the judgment of God" (Ro 3:19) find justification, salvation, deliverance from the wrath of God (Ro 4:25; 5:1-6). Of course it is not necessary to add that the wrath of God is not to be thought of as having any unworthy or capricious element in it--it is the settled opposition of His holy nature against sin.

(b) Reconciliation, Godward, as Well as Manward:

The apostle proceeds (Ro 5:10): "For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life." Now if, as many maintain, it is only the reconciliation on the manward side that is meant, that the manifested love led to the sinner laying aside his enmity, it would entirely reverse the apostle's argument. He is not arguing that if we have begun to love God we may reckon upon His doing so and so for us, but because He has done so much, we may expect Him to do more. The verse is parallel to the preceding, and the being reconciled is on the same plane as being justified; the being justified was God's action, and so is the reconciling. Justification delivers from "the wrath of God"; reconciliation takes effect upon enemies.

(c) The Meaning of the Word "Enemies":

The word "enemies" is important. By those who take the manward aspect of reconciliation as the only one, it is held that the word must be taken actively--those who hate God. But the passive meaning, "hatred of God," seems far the preferable, and is indeed demanded by the context. Paul uses the verb echthroi, "enemies," in Ro 11:28, in antithesis to "beloved" of God, and that is the consistent sense here. The enemies are those who are the objects of the wrath of the previous verse. And when we were thus hated of God, the objects of His just displeasure on account of our sin, "we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son." God laid aside His enmity, and in the propitiatory death of Christ showed Himself willing to receive us into His favor.

(d) The Manward Side:

By this propitiation, therefore, the barrier was removed, and, God having assumed a gracious attitude toward the sinner, it is possible for the sinner now, influenced by His love, to come into a friendly relationship with God. And so in the second phrase, the two meanings, the Godward and the manward, may coalesce: "being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." The reconciliation becomes mutual, for there is no kind of doubt that sinners are enemies to God in the active sense, and require to lay aside their hostility, and so be reconciled to Him. But the first step is with God, and the reconciliation which took place in the death of His Son could only be the Godward reconciliation, since at that time men were still uninfluenced by His love. But, perhaps, just because that first reconciliation is brought about through the divine love which provides the propitiation, the apostle avoids saying "God is reconciled," but uses the more indirect form of speech. The manward aspect is emphasized in the next verse, although the Godward is not lost sight of: "We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation" (Ro 5:11). It is therefore something that comes from God and does not proceed from man. God is the first mover; He makes the reconciliation as already indicated, and then the fruit of it is imputed to the believing sinner, and the very fact that our receiving the reconciliation, or being brought into a state of reconciliation; follows the being reconciled of Ro 5:10, shows that the other is divine reconciliation as the basis of the human.

(2) 2 Corinthians 5:18-20.

(a) The Godward Aspect Primary:

In the same way the great passage in 2Co 5:18-20 cannot be understood apart from the conception that there is a reconciliation on the divine side. There is unquestionably reference to the human side of the matter as well, but, as in Romans, the Godward aspect is primary and dominating: "All things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation." It might be possible to argue from the King James Version that this describes the process going on under gospel influences, men being brought into gracious relations with God, but the aorist of the Greek rightly rendered by the Revised Version (British and American), "who reconciled us to himself," points back to the historic time when the transaction took place. It cannot be simply the surrender of the sinner to God that is meant, though that comes as a consequence; it is a work that proceeds from God, is accomplished by God, and because of the accomplishment of that work it is possible for a ministry of reconciliation to be entrusted to men. To make this mean the human aspect of the reconciliation, it would be necessary unduly to confine it to the reconciliation of Paul and his fellow-workers, though even then it would be a straining of language, for there is the other historic act described, "and gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation." The plain meaning is that through Jesus Christ, God established the basis of agreement, removed the barrier to the sinner's approach to Himself, accomplished the work of propitiation, and, having done so, He entrusts His servants with the ministry of reconciliation, a ministry which, basing itself upon the great propitiatory, reconciling work of Christ, is directed toward men, seeking to remove their enmity, to influence them in their turn to be reconciled with God. This is more clearly set forth in the verse which follows, which in explaining the ministry of reconciliation says: "To wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses." Here there can be no question that the historic Incarnation is meant, and the reconciling of the world can be nothing other than the objective work of atonement culminating in the cross. And in that transaction there can be no thought of the sinner laying aside his hostility to God; it is God in Christ so dealing with sin that the doom lying upon the guilty is canceled, the wrath is averted, propitiation is made.

(b) The Manward Side also Prominent:

God, in a word, enters into gracious relations with a world of sinners, becomes reconciled to man. This being done, gracious influences can be brought to bear upon man, the chief of which is the consideration of this stupendous fact of grace, that God has in Christ dealt with the question of sin. This is the substance of the "word of reconciliation" which is preached by the apostle. So he continues, "We are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God." Here is the human side. The great matter now is to get the sinner to lay aside his enmity, to respond to the gracious overtures of the gospel, to come into harmony with God. But that is only possible because the reconciliation in the Godward aspect has already been accomplished. If the first reconciliation, "the reconciliation of the world unto himself," had been the laying aside of human enmity, there could now be no point in the exhortation, "Be ye reconciled to God."

(3) Ephesians 2:16.

The two passages where the compound word occurs are in complete harmony with this interpretation. Eph 2:16: "And might reconcile them both (Jew and Gentile) in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby," is the outcome of Christ "making peace" (Eph 2:15), and the reconciling work is effected through the cross, reconciliation both Godward and manward, and, having made peace, it is possible for Christ to come and preach peace to them that are far off--far off even though the reconciling work of the cross has been accomplished.

(4) Colossians 1:20-22.

So in Col 1:20, "And through him to reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens." Here the thought of the apostle trembles away into infinity, and there seems a parallel to the thought of Heb 9:23, that according to the typical teaching even "the things in the heavens" in some way stood in need of cleansing. May it be that the work of Christ in some sense affected the angelic intelligence, making it possible for harmony to be restored between redeemed sinners and the perfect creation of God? In any case, the reconciling all things unto Himself is not the laying aside of the creaturely hostility, but the determining of the divine attitude. Then comes the specific reference to the human side, "And you, being in time past alienated and enemies in your mind in your evil works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death"; there, as in Romans, the two phases coalescing, God appearing gracious through the work of Christ, sinners coming into gracious relation with Him. "Having made peace through the blood of his cross," the ground of peace has been established. Christ has done something by His death which makes it possible to offer peace to men. God has laid aside His holy opposition to the sinner, and shows Himself willing to bring men into peace with Himself. He has found satisfaction in that great work of His Son, has been reconciled, and now calls upon men to be reconciled to Him--to receive the reconciliation.



See the works on New Testament Theology of Weiss, Schmid, Stevens, etc.; Denney, Death of Christ; articles on "Reconciliation" in Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes), Hastings, Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, etc.

Archibald M'Caig

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