Mystery & Atonement

The concept of “mystery” plays an important role in T.F. Torrance’s atonement theology. In chapter one of Atonement he outlines his approach to the doctrine of atonement. He begins by describing the liturgy of the day of atonement in the Old Testament. As he describes what happens, he says that the most important part of the deed of atonement is done within the veil, beyond human sight.[1] He says that “The inner mystery God ordained to be completely veiled from human eyes.”[2] This is important because it leads Torrance to believe that “the innermost mystery of atonement and intercession remains mystery: it cannot be spelled out, and it cannot be spied out.” The mystery of the act of atonement leads TorrTF Torranceance to believe that we cannot have “any mere theory of the atonement.”[3] He explains that there is no logical relation between the death of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. For him one cannot reason, a priori, to the fact of atonement in the death of Christ. One can merely “follow Christ, and think only a posteriori,” understanding that the atoning deed on the cross is a mystery.

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[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Atonement: the Person and Work of Christ, ed. Robert T. Walker (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2009), 2.

[2] Torrance, Atonement: the Person and Work of Christ, 2.

[3] Torrance, Atonement: the Person and Work of Christ, 4.

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