Separating the Atonement from the Christ Event

November 1, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 10:50 am   Category: Atonement & Soteriology

Moggett started using an excellent term in some of her posts over at FPR: “The Christ Event”. The Christ Event, as I understand it, is a name for the events in the life of Jesus between the last supper (or perhaps the triumphal entry into Jerusalem…) and the resurrection, including the Garden of Gethsemane and the cross. I think this is a very useful term to be used in conjunction with the broader term atonement. Making such a delineation may not be all that important in some settings, but when we are trying to discuss atonement theories such added precision becomes a necessity.

The problem with using the general term atonement in theological discussions is that it is difficult to know just what we are talking about. On a broad level atonement simply means the process or plan by which we can become “at one” with God. So in Mormon-talk the broad meaning of the word atonement is probably actually synonymous with the term Plan of Salvation. The Plan of Salvation is the plan to make us “at one” with God after all. But that is not how we like to use the word in the church. Often we speak of the suffering Christ experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane as the actual atonement whereas all other parts of the Christ Event and the Plan of Salvation are… well… something else. Sometimes we speak of the Christ Event in general as the Atonement and all other parts of the Plan of Salvation as something other than at-one-ment. And of course there are scriptural passages that justify most all of these uses of the term atonement so it is hard to blame our people for so doing.

But here at the Thang we are trying to more deeply understand the overall atonement and how its parts work. So I suggest we separate the terms into at least the three categories I have mentioned:

1. The Atonement = The overall plan and process by which God and humans may become at one with each other.
2. The Christ Event = The portion of the atonement that that Jesus accomplished in the last three days of his mortal life and culminating in his resurrection
3. The events in Gethsemane = The portion of the Christ Event where Jesus struggled in prayer and suffered beyond human comprehension

What do you think? I want to agree on a few terms here before proceeding with the atonement theory posts I have in mind next…


  1. I am the outsider looking in. Geoff, your defining of terms helps me. I would like to follow your upcoming posts. But I have one question.
    When you mention that in “the events in Gethsemane”, Jesus “suffered beyond human comprehension”. What does that entail and how is that contrasted with other suffering experienced in “The Christ Event”?

    Comment by Todd Wood — November 1, 2006 @ 11:33 am

  2. Oh goodie, I love defining our terms.

    I don’t equate the Atonement with the Plan of Salvation. God’s plan seems to have parts that are not strictly part of the Atonement (as I use the term). I view the Atonement as enabling the Plan of Salvation. Very closely related, but not identical.

    I think the “Christ Event,” as you have described it, is more commonly referred to as the Passion. I prefer that term, although I don’t think I’ve ever used it here. Perhaps it has some connotation I am not thinking of.

    I wouldn’t split out the events in Gethsemane from the Passion or the Christ Event. What distinction are you making between 2. and 3.? Your definitions seem to overlap.

    Comment by Jacob — November 1, 2006 @ 11:34 am

  3. I think it becomes confusing due to the fact that the Fall, Council in Heaven, Creation, Atonement, and Final Judgement are what I would consider necassary components of the Plan of Salvation, and while the atonement is more than the Christ even, it is less than the whole of the plan.

    Mami, another commenter on another blog, recently turned me on to the fact that the term atonement was inveted by tyndale, and is not an ancient term. Perhaps we should simply discontinue use of the term and find alternative terms with which to discuss the atonements components, for clarities sake?

    Comment by Matt W. — November 1, 2006 @ 11:40 am

  4. Jacob, I do see a value in having a Gethsemane event distinction as a subset of the christ event, as it allows us to also have a cross event, and resurrection event. I think Passion may be a better term than christ event as well, in that christ event may later be misconstrued by a newcomer as the totality of Christ’s life from birth to death, as opposed to the other.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 1, 2006 @ 11:43 am

  5. Todd – Feel free to follow along. Just be aware that our discussions are not representative any official church positions or anything.

    Jacob – God’s plan seems to have parts that are not strictly part of the Atonement

    Don’t you think that God’s plan amounts to a plan to make us at one with him? God himself said that his work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. I can’t imagine how there is a difference based on the broad meaning of the (Tyndale English) term atonement.

    is more commonly referred to as the Passion. I prefer that term

    Hmmm… seems like a loaded term to me. I think it would become a stumbling block to use it among Mormons rather than a help. It has Catholic overtones that would throw people off. Christ Event seems like a better choice because it is new enough to not have that baggage.

    I wouldn’t split out the events in Gethsemane from the Passion or the Christ Event.

    But Mormons commonly do already. We often refer to the events in Gethsemane exclusively as the atonement in our discourses. DKL posted on this just recently. I think there needs to be clarification on this point. Either the entire Christ event qualifies as part of the atonement or it doesn’t. Obviously I think it does.

    Matt: Perhaps we should simply discontinue use of the term and find alternative terms with which to discuss the atonements components, for clarities sake?

    Well I don’t think we could do away with it entirely or Mormons wouldn’t even know the subject. (We are discussing atonement theories here after all.) But maybe an approach would be to introduce the subject as atonement theory and then break the parts down as the overall plan, the Christ Event (or Passion), and Gethsemane. I think you are right that using the word atonement in the broadest Plan of Salvation sense would just confuse people (even though I think it is accurate to use it that way).

    Comment by Geoff J — November 1, 2006 @ 12:08 pm

  6. Geoff:
    This may be a valuable approach. Can I recommend a different subdivisions using mormon terminology then? (Perhaps you’ve already made some strides toward writing using your divisions and don’t want to change, if so I understand)

    1.- Atonement in context of the total plan of salvation
    ….a.- Heavenly Father’s involvement
    ….b.- Holy Ghost’s involvement
    ….c.- Christ’s involvement
    ……..i.-pre-mortal involvement
    ……..ii.-mortal involvement
    …………a. birth
    …………b. teachings and example
    …………c. gethsemane
    …………d. crucifixion and death
    …………e. resurrection
    ……..iii.-post-mortal involvment
    ….d.- Our involvement

    I think there would need to be some sort of appendices to deal with the general framework of reality as well, to illustrate things like the involvement on co-eternal items justice, etc.

    Sorry if the formatting doesn’t work on this… [Ok, I used a klugy method to fake it – Editor]

    Comment by Matt W. — November 1, 2006 @ 12:28 pm

  7. I think your definitions are fine. It may help, but I often wonder if some of the confusion we observe is borderline intentional.

    I look forward to your posts.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — November 1, 2006 @ 12:39 pm

  8. I think this is useful, including subdividing the Christ event. Others have mentioned the cross and the resurrection as distinct subdivisions. That leaves the period between Gethsemene and the cross (which I will refer to as “the trial”. Do we agree or disagree with Mel Gibson’s apparent belief that Christ’s suffering during the trial was somehow effecatious in furthering the atonement? (Not to start a threadjack. Just something to keep in mind if you want to make sure you have covered all the bases.)

    Comment by Last Lemming — November 1, 2006 @ 12:57 pm

  9. Matt W–
    I agree with Geoff–(maybe this is not what you were getting at anyhow)
    I don’t think we define Atonement well lately, but I don’t think we should do away with the word. I think Tyndale maybe one of the most influential people in the past 5 centuries for inventing the word.

    Comment by Mami — November 1, 2006 @ 1:26 pm

  10. LL- Mel was just ripping of “Lamb of God” anyway (How’s that for a conspiracy theory), but I think Talmage goes through the Trial fairly well in his book, so it is worth considering, but I don’t know that I’d count it as being as seminal as the other points, perhaps more like window dressing.

    Mami- I am not suggesting an outright rejection of the term as a church, but more or less a reduction in it’s use here, to be replaced by other terms with possibly clearer meanings on a case by case basis.

    [thanks to the omnipotent Editor for fixing me where I could not fix myself. uh-oh, I feel a parable coming on… ]

    Comment by Matt W. — November 1, 2006 @ 2:01 pm

  11. Eric: I often wonder if some of the confusion we observe is borderline intentional

    Interesting point Eric. I think you are right, but I believe it is a misguided policy to seek mystery rather than clarity. I’ll have to post on that subject later too because it has been on my mind for some time.

    LL – I think the various components probably will get more or less air time depending on the theory being pushed. For instance, the trial carries more weight in a Moral Influence Theory than it does in a Penal-Substitution Theory.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 1, 2006 @ 2:43 pm

  12. Actaully Geoff, I think the Wikipedia article on “Atonement” pretty much covers all of this, including the added LDS perspective.

    Comment by Mami — November 1, 2006 @ 3:04 pm

  13. Geoff:

    I agree in the goal of seeking clarity. I am not sure everyone shares that goal. I am not even thinking of anyone in particular. But I will say that I often enjoy the posts you make more than the discussions that follow. I’m not trying to stir up trouble by saying this, and I am not trying to place blame. I will probably read you posts thoroughly, and ‘ponder them in my heart’.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — November 1, 2006 @ 3:09 pm

  14. But I will say that I often enjoy the posts you make more than the discussions that follow.

    Hehehe. That’s because all of my posts are so awesomely awesome…

    Comment by Geoff J — November 1, 2006 @ 4:44 pm

  15. To clarify, I don’t have any problem with talking about both Gethsemane and the cross. Obviously, questions arise about what happened in each and how they are related. I was just noticing your 2. and 3. were overlapping and wondered why you would have Gethsemane on the list without the cross.

    So, what exactly is wrong with using the term Passion? You said it was loaded, but what is it loaded with? Is it just the fact that Catholics use that term? That doesn’t bother me at all and I would hope it wouldn’t bother anyone else unless there was something more to it.

    Comment by Jacob — November 1, 2006 @ 8:52 pm

  16. Hi Geoff,

    Nice work with definitions. Just a point on the Christ-event, much of which I haven’t got around to blogging on. It covers all of his existence. There are things he did while mortal, the death and resurrection, and then the things he continues to do now and in the future. It’s everything he did, does, or will do.

    I just haven’t got around to most of the rest of it yet…!


    “Passion” comes from the Greek for suffering. It’s a pretty standard term. I most often hear it as a modifier such as “the passion narratives.” Shouldn’t be any problem using it except in deciding on its limits. The passion narratives can cover the last week or just the events of the Last Supper and following. Dunno how theologians use it, though.

    I don’t think Tyndale invented the word “atonement.” It predates him and the Bible. But check the OED. I could be mis-remembering.

    Comment by Mogget — November 2, 2006 @ 7:19 am

  17. Geoff: How about calling it the “com-Passion,” which means something broader than suffering, but co-experiencing? I agree with Moggett. Everything that both Father and the Son do is aimed at bringing us into a unity of shared experience with them (where “experience” is construed in process terms as everything that occurs in the process of becoming). Then we explain why we focus on Christ’s life as the central act in this process where the fulness of divine experience is joined with a fulness of human experience and there a more intense suffering than had ever occurred before. However, that suffering has been joined with the glory of the resurrection and a completion of divine victory over death (bringing in the Christus Victor theme) and with God’s ongoing offer of loving relationship and ongoing acts to persuade us to let down our egotistical guard and let him into our hearts.

    Comment by Blake — November 2, 2006 @ 8:03 am

  18. Geoff:
    I think we may also need to break out subsections within the Gethsemane event like:

    Suffering for Pain
    Suffering for Sin
    Suffering for Death

    Comment by Matt W. — November 2, 2006 @ 9:22 am

  19. Mogget, I was interested that you said Tyndale didn’t invent the word “atonement.” I have heard that so many times and for so long, I guess it was bound to be a rumor (but faith promoting, no doubt). Hopefully someone will check the OED so I can figure out if I should believe it or not.

    Comment by Jacob — November 2, 2006 @ 10:33 am

  20. Well, the OED attribes it to “More,” by which it means Sir Thomas More, I guess. His usage dates to 1513 and I think we’re talking about two plays, maybe Edward V and Richard III. Tyndale used it in 1526 in 2 Cor 5:18

    “God..hath geven unto us the office to preache the atonement”

    If we’re using the words according the Official Mogget Biblical Studies lexicon, then “atonement” is one of the effects of the Christ event. but reconciliation is usually used instead of atonement.

    Comment by Mogget — November 2, 2006 @ 12:15 pm

  21. Mogget–
    I would love to see more sources for this. I am not a scholar–but everything I’ve read says quite clearly that Tyndale coined Atonement, as well as many other words.

    Comment by Mami — November 2, 2006 @ 1:49 pm

  22. Well, I’m no scholar of the language of the AV, either!

    I checked the Oxford English Dictionary. I have it online here at school, so try any decent library. Type in “atonement” and you get about three pages of “stuff” for each denotation. The theological aspect is only one of about five, as I recall.

    I also have a couple of relatively serious sources on the language of the KJV here, and they don’t attribute “atonement” to Tyndale. Actually, they don’t mention it at all. However, it does appear that he was the first to port it across semantic domains and into theology. That may be the point that was intended, rather than actually coining the word.

    It might be a faith-promoting rumor, you know? I heard it all the time when I was in seminary/institute, myself. But I wouldn’t diss the OED without a serious line up of some exceedingly fat and happy ducks.

    Comment by Mogget — November 2, 2006 @ 4:32 pm

  23. OK– I see. He didn’t make it up–but was the fist to use it in a theological sense. I am wondering why he chose that word.

    Comment by Mami — November 2, 2006 @ 6:44 pm

  24. BTW, thanks Mogget!

    Comment by Mami — November 2, 2006 @ 6:48 pm

  25. Geoff and Jacob, ok how am I doing over at on this subject of the atonement? I just placed a starting entry on the subject.

    Eric, you are welcome to join in on my blog. I just read your post on Mosiah 3 over at “Small and Simple”. (Grew up in Rexburg, huh? Rexburg is now bursting at the seams. Our local paper in I.F. just announced a new 15,000 seat auditorium to be built.)

    Jacob, if the discussion starts with the Bible on the atonement, how does my new entry mesh with what you guys are saying?

    Comment by Todd Wood — November 2, 2006 @ 7:47 pm

  26. Todd, your blog is not accepting comments at the moment.

    Comment by Jacob — November 2, 2006 @ 10:44 pm

  27. I am wondering why he chose that word.

    At that point, it looks to my untrained eye like it still had a pretty narrow semantic range and was used in the general domain of social interactions. The Greek word it’s translating is a reconciliation word, from the world of social interaction. Words like “justification” come from the juridical.

    So when translating the words that descibe the effects of the Christ-event, folks always try to hit not just the right concept but the right domain of interaction. God interacts with us as a judge ==> legal terms. In a social sense ==> social terms. And so on.

    Comment by Mogget — November 3, 2006 @ 6:28 am

  28. But did the original Hebrew or Greek words ever convey exactly that in the verses where Tyndale used attomente?

    Comment by Mami — November 3, 2006 @ 9:39 am

  29. Mogget,
    To be more clear, I have a problem because of other translations that in no way match up, as explained here.

    Comment by Mami — November 3, 2006 @ 10:19 am

  30. Mami, I don’t use a blogger account, so can not comment on your site, but I do have a few questions regarding your write-up, which is very good. You site Russian and Japanese Scriptures and the differentials there. My question is, what wee these translated from? My point is that if they were translated from English bibles, and are not ancient texts, themselves, I don’t kow that they really contribute much to our ancient understanding of the biblical meaning of the word atonement.

    That said, in Cebu, Philippines, they use the term paguli in speaking about the attonement, but the scriptures use the archaic pagusa (which noone understands very well.) paguli is “to return” and pagusa is “to be one”. “pag=” just represents noun formulation of a verb.

    As to whether Tyndale got it wrong, I think we are best helped by the modern prophets and ou faith in them for this.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 3, 2006 @ 11:21 am

  31. The Russian was translated from the Greek and some of the Vulgate—The LDS scriptures use iiskyplenie more than a standard Russian bible (so the church is translating it into a kind of purchase with blood, rather than reconciliation)The Japanese was translated from whatever the Jesuits were using, probably mostly the vulgate? or whatever was used by Rome at the time (again, I’m an not a scholar–but would certainly like those who do know to fill me in).

    Comment by Mami — November 3, 2006 @ 11:39 am

  32. Mami, what about the word, “propitiaion” as well? Does this have any significance?

    Jacob, now try my blog. When adding a comment, I clicked on the body section and the box came up. Pebble has its quirks from all the other servers, sort of matches me. :)

    Comment by Todd Wood — November 3, 2006 @ 3:30 pm

  33. Todd,
    Good question. Propitiation seems to have been use often when Tyndale was translating, at least more than atonement. Propitiation is also found in the bible–so I don’t know why he chose a different word. Wyclif used it as early as the 14th century. I think the translation may be a question of textual criticism.
    In the way the word is used , it seems there has been either a doctrinal shift, or a shift of emphasis, especially in the past 30 years. (I do not mean in doctrinal shift in LDS church per se, but among the Christian churches in the US) The church talking about the atonement as a at-one-ment is a relatively new phenomenon–a western, maybe even an American phenomenon. I believe the theories of what Christ’s sacrifice is and does may have played a significant role in the shift when they were debated during the American reformation.

    Comment by Mami — November 3, 2006 @ 4:20 pm

  34. From what I have gathered from Geoff about Blake’s theory of the atonement (I need to read the chapter firsthand), “propitiation” is not a welcomed word, because of the connotations with wrath. And this is where some segments of Christianity and English translations have erased the English word altogether, preferring “expiation.”

    Comment by Todd Wood — November 3, 2006 @ 4:42 pm

  35. Interesting. How late were the translations changed, and to what were they changed, when using propitiation?

    Comment by Mami — November 3, 2006 @ 5:21 pm

  36. Ok, so here’s a follow up on the post:

    I think it has become obvious that we’ll never reach a unanimous consensus on what to label the parts of the atonement. So I think I’ll use titles similar to the ones I suggested in the post as I continue to explore atonement theories here the Thang. I’ll just define them to some degree every time for the newcomers. One thing I think I will change from the post is that I don’t think I will regularly use the word “atonement” without a qualifier. Rather I think I would break usage down something like this:

    Overall Atonement = The all-inclusive plan that leads to the possibility of us being at one with God. This includes the idea of a Plan of Salvation and also the reality of God’s never-ending and never-failing grace in which he offers us a personal relationship with him even though we do not deserve such an offer based on our actions. (This idea that grace = ongoing atonement is one of the ways Blake uses the word atonement and I like it.)
    Christ Event = The culmination of Jesus’ life on earth and his resurrection. I now realize that Moggett used it to mean his entire mortal life, and that has merit, but I want to narrow it to the events between the Last Supper and Resurrection for the sake of clarity. I think I will refer to his entire mortal life as just that.
    Gethsemane, the Cross, Resurrection, etc. = Just that. I will refer to these events/components separately as part of the Christ Event which in turn is part of the overall atonement.

    I don’t expect my terms to become universal but if we can at least understand each other as we discuss these things that will suffice I think.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 5, 2006 @ 11:44 am

  37. It sorta feels to me like we are trying to reinvent the wheel here. Why not look to how atonement is defined, for example, in the BD and GS? I have always had the sense that the use of this word was focused primarily on Christ’s atoning work. The BD defines that work in this way: “Jesus Christ, as the Only Begotten Son of God and the only sinless person to live on this earth, was the only one capable of making an atonement for mankind. By his selection and foreordination in the Grand Council before the world was formed, his divine Sonship, his sinless life, the shedding of his blood in the garden of Gethsemane, his death on the cross and subsequent bodily resurrection from the grave, he made a perfect atonement for all mankind.”

    It seems like that nicely encompasses the elements of His existence and life and experiences that all come together to make Him the One who could make at-one-ment possible. It includes premortal events, His Godhood, His perfect life and his suffering in Gethsemane and death and resurrection.

    I do wonder if we could add His role as Judge, but that was something He earned because of the Atonement, I think.

    At-one-ment is a concept. “The Atonement” is Christ’s role in making at-one-ment possible, and is by and large what we talk about in the Church when we talk of the atonement. I appreciated reading what the BD says because it shows that indeed, His atonement is more than just three days of His life. But is it really necessary to parse out the different elements of His final suffering, since the atonement could not have happened without any part of those experiences? I guess I don’t understand the felt need to do that. Lil’ help?

    Comment by m&m — November 5, 2006 @ 11:54 pm

  38. m&m: Why not look to how atonement is defined, for example, in the BD and GS?

    I think we are doing that to a large degree. For instance here is what the Bible Dictionary says:

    The word describes the setting “at one” of those who have been estranged, and denotes the reconciliation of man to God. Sin is the cause of the estrangement, and therefore the purpose of atonement is to correct or overcome the consequences of sin.

    As we get more detailed it becomes necessary to to use more precise language.

    Using the analogy I used in the other thread, it is like asking how a car works. On one level it is accurate to say “when you push the gas pedal it goes” but that is looking at is from a completely different perspective than looking under the hood to see how an engine works. Looking under the hood and beginning to understand it requires a much larger vocabulary.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 6, 2006 @ 9:11 am

  39. Mami, take for instance the NEB (New English Bible)that went from propitiation to expiation. Geoff, I know this is off track of your thread. I will be quiet now.

    Comment by Todd Wood — November 6, 2006 @ 1:04 pm