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Genesis 2:17 (KJV):
of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die

It is written "on the day" Adam ate, he would die. But we know he died 930 years after. I always thought of it as mortality and decay starting at the moment he ate from the forbidden fruit. But now I have another theory.

Genesis 3:21 KJV
Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.

Presumably animals died on that day in the place of man, and the skins were used as coverings for his nakedness?

The Hebrew word for atonement is kâphar:

Strong’s Definition (H3722):
kâphar, kaw-far'; a primitive root; to cover (specifically with bitumen); figuratively, to expiate or condone, to placate or cancel:—appease, make (an atonement, cleanse, disannul, forgive, be merciful, pacify, pardon, purge (away), put off, (make) reconcile(-liation).

It is not unreasonable to consider that the means by which God later instructed his people to make atonement for sin, was the very means by which God himself (the Father of Adam and Eve) made atonement for the sin of his children.

So, is there more that can be said for/against the idea that Genesis 2:17 depicts a substitutionary death for atonement?

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    Can you cite specific New Testament Scriptures pertaining to atonement that you think this would relate to? – user33515 Feb 24 '18 at 4:28
  • It has more to do with the meaning of atonement and it's use in the sacrificial system to cover sin or cleanse it. Which as a Christian I believe points to Christ. I put a definition of kaphar to show why I asked if the clothing symbolized atonement. – diego b Feb 24 '18 at 4:46
  • The very last definition you posted is the correct one (reconciliation). The others are synonymous with the modern meaning of the word "atonement", but not with what atonement meant before the early 17th century. Over the years the Greek and Hebrew words translated by "atonement" have been assigned meanings that are synonymous with the modern meaning of atonement as reparation (appeasement), but that's not what the original words meant. Compare Romans 5:11 KJV, Tyndale, Geneva Bible with NIV/NASB/ESV/etc. and you'll see what I mean. – user33515 Feb 24 '18 at 11:24
  • See etymonline.com/word/atone – user33515 Feb 24 '18 at 11:25
  • I guess what I am saying is that you are looking for an Old Testament type for something in the New Testament that isn't really there. – user33515 Feb 24 '18 at 11:28
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Preamble

The first occurrence of kaphar in the Bible:

Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.
-- Genesis 6:14 (KJV)

Here, God instructs Noah "to pitch" (כָּפַר Strong's H3722 - kaphar) the walls of the ark from inside and out with "pitch" (כֹּפֶר Strong's H3724 - kopher). The verb kaphar, Strong says is a primitive root, and the noun kopher, is derived from it. The generic meaning of both is "cover", the verb, "to cover", and the noun "a covering".

So, Noah was instructed "to cover" the ark inside and out with "a covering". Strong's analysis of usage for kopher reveals that it refers to specific "coverings" such as: bribe, henna, pitch, ransom, satisfaction, sum of money, village. So, one might "pitch (v) with pitch (n)", "henna (v) with henna (n)" and "bribe (v) with "a bride" (n)", etc.

Just like the noun has come to refer to specific things, so Strong lists specific actions for the verb, such as: appease, make atonement, cleanse, disannul, forgive, be merciful, pacify, pardon, purge (away), put off, (make) reconcile(-liation).

Genesis 6:14 is the only verse in the Bible where kaphar and kopher explicitly appear together, and there are only two other places were they explicitly appear within a radius of thirty verses -- Exodus 30:12-15 and Numbers 35:31-33. However, the words are truly inseparable since it is not possible "to cover" without "a covering", and "a covering" only achieves its purpose if it is used "to cover". So, if kaphar or kopher appear alone in a passage, it would be a good hermeneutic exercise to look around for how the other is present implicitly.

Now, why did God instruct Noah to apply pitch inside and outside the ark? Because the raw natural timber (the ark's nakedness, as it were) was vulnerable to the waters of the flood and had to be covered with pitch to prevent leaks that would compromise the integrity of the ark and the safety of those inside.

Pitching the ark with pitch brought about a pitchment, where "pitchment" refers to the state being of the ark AFTER the pitch was applied, i.e. a vessel whose integrity was strengthened against the waters of the flood and was thus able to secure the lives of those within. Given the information available today in regard to the size of the ark and the forces that were acting upon it, without the hand of the LORD also covering the ark, then it surely would have been overwhelmed.

This model facilitates understanding the notion of "atonement", i.e. it is the state of being that exists when one follows God's instructions "to cover" the vessel (self, family, nation, etc) with a prescribed "covering" in order to strengthen its integrity so it can prevail against the effects of the forces acting against it. The prescribed covering under the Law is "substitutionary blood" in all cases excepting those where an act results in the taking of life 1, for which the perpetrator's own blood is required.

Atonement is only achievable under the Law if there are those, like Noah, who are willing to diligently follow the LORD's instructions "to atone" with the prescribed "atoning". The narrative of the Bible reveals that when there are no such people, then the LORD removed His hand and the vessel (self, family, nation, etc) was overwhelmed by the forces acting against it.

Conclusion

Does Genesis 2:17 depicts a substitutionary death for atonement?

Yes, it does. Since Adam and Eve were children (regarding life experience and ignorance of the need "to atone"), it was the father's responsibility to do for them what they couldn't do for themselves. The animals that died provided substitutionary blood and skins "to cover" the good ship Adam and Eve, that the LORD had launched on the sea of life outside Eden.

The integrity of that vessel was secured against the forces of the environment, both physical and social -- uncovered flesh is vulnerable to the elements, as well as inappropriate sexual impulse. As the hand of the LORD was also upon the vessel, atonement was procured.


Notes:

  1. 30Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die. 31Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction kopher for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death. 32And ye shall take no satisfaction kopher for him that is fled to the city of his refuge, that he should come again to dwell in the land, until the death of the priest. 33So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed kaphar of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.

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I don't think your interpretation works, since it relies on an anachronistic understanding of the word "atonement". I explain my reasoning below.


As you point out, the Hebrew word that is usually translated as atonement is כפר (kpr). The word appears over 100 times in the Hebrew Old Testament.

In the 1611 King James Bible it is translated as atonement (e.g. Exodus 29:32) in about 70% of the cases. In the modern ESV it is translated as atonement in 95% of the cases.

If you asked, then, a Hebrew Bible scholar in 1611 whether כפר meant "atonement", they would certainly say yes. If you ask a 21st century Hebrew Bible scholar if כפר meant "atonement", they would also say yes.


The problem is, however, that the meaning of the English word atonement meant something completely different in the early 17th century than it does today. The meaning of atone as make reparations for or make amends for did not emerge until the late 17th century. Prior to that, it was always understood to mean to reconcile. (You'll note that that is the very last alternate definition given כפר in the lexicon entry you cite.)

What has happened, however, is that the latter meaning of atonement has been read back anachronistically into the Hebrew (and Greek) word(s) that it translates, imputing new meaning to the original Bible texts that weren't there in the first place.

See, e.g., the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary or the completed Oxford English Dictionary to verify that what I am saying about the word atonement is true. This entry from the Online Etymology Dictionary summarizes nicely:

atone (v.)

1590s, "be in harmony, agree, be in accordance," from adverbial phrase atonen (c. 1300) "in accord," literally "at one," a contraction of at and one. It retains the older pronunciation of one. Meaning "make up (for errors or deficiencies)" is from 1660s; that of "make reparations" is from 1680s. The phrase perhaps is modeled on Latin adunare "unite," from ad "to, at" (see ad-) + unum "one." Related: Atoned; atoning.


In this context, it is interesting to compare how Romans 5:11 has been translated through the years:

Tyndale (1526)

Not only so/but we also joye in God by the meanes of oure Lorde Jesus Christ/by whom we have receaved the attonment.

Coverdale (1535)

For yf we were recōcyled vnto God by ye death of his sōne, whā we were yet enemies: moch more shal we be saued by him, now yt we are reconcyled. Not onely that, but we reioyse also in God thorow oure LORDE Iesus Christ, by whom we haue now receaued the attonement.

Geneva Bible (1557)

And not onely so, but we also rejoyce in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whome we have now received yͤ atonemẽt.

King James Bible (1611)

And not onely so, but wee also ioy in God, through our Lorde Iesus Christ, by whom we haue now receiued the atonement.

King James Bible (1769)

And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.

In all of these cases, atonement translated the Greek word καταλλαγή (katallagē), which is defined as "reconciliation" in most lexicons. See, for example, this entry in Mounce's online Greek-English dictionary. Since this understanding clearly does not accord with the modern understanding of "atonement" as reparation, Bibles began scratching atonement from Romans 5:11 sometime in the 19th century:

Revised Version (1895)

And not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

Revised Standard Version (1946)

Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation.

New King James Version (1982)

And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

New American Standard Bible (1995)

And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

English Standard Version (2007)

More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.


"Corrections" have also been made in the opposite direction: in instances where כפר was previously translated as reconcile - once a synonym of atone - reconcile has been scratched and replaced with atone, most likely with the latter day meaning of atone understood. Take Leviticus 6:30, for example, which in many older Bibles reads:

Geneva Bible (1557)

But no sin offrĩg, whose blood is broght in to the Tabernacle of yͤ Cõgregacion to make recõciliacion in the holy place, shal be eaten, but shal be burnt in the fire.

King James Bible (1611)

And no sinne offering whereof any of the blood is brought into the Tabernacle of the Congregation to reconcile withall in the holy place, shall be eaten: it shall be burnt in the fire.

King James Bible (1769)

And no sin offering, whereof any of the blood is brought into the tabernacle of the congregation to reconcile withal in the holy place, shall be eaten: it shall be burnt in the fire.

This has been emended in the opposite direction:

Revised Version (1895)

And no sin offering, whereof any of the blood is brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement in the holy place, shall be eaten: it shall be burnt with fire.

Revised Standard Version (1946)

But no sin offering shall be eaten from which any blood is brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement in the holy place; it shall be burned with fire.

New King James Version (1982)

But no sin offering from which any of the blood is brought into the tabernacle of meeting, to make atonement in the holy place, shall be eaten. It shall be burned in the fire.

New American Standard Bible (1995)

But no sin offering of which any of the blood is brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement in the holy place shall be eaten; it shall be burned with fire.

English Standard Version (2007)

But no sin offering shall be eaten from which any blood is brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement in the Holy Place; it shall be burned up with fire.

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    Thanks for the answer but I don't agree with it. Your showing me Greek in the new testament when I'm focusing on the old testament Hebrew. Many sources show that kaphar can mean "to cover " which is figuratively used as reconciliation through the covering of sin. – diego b Feb 24 '18 at 17:09
  • I don't agree or disagree with relating "covering" to Genesis 2:17. But your reference to "substitutional deaths" implies that you are speaking of atonement in the modern sense, and then imputing that sense back into kaphar. That is what I was getting at. "Substitutionary atonement" is meaningless in the sense of the original text, Hebrew or Greek. – user33515 Feb 24 '18 at 17:16
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    All I'm asking is if it's possible those animals were slain in their place, while the covering can be symbolized as atonement. Many others have made the connection between the slain animals in genesis 3:21 as pointing to Christ. I see that you are saying it's not possible, so thank you for your answer. But I'm still haven't been convinced that's "it's not possible". – diego b Feb 24 '18 at 17:24
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    Hey I also found a new testament reference that lines up with this interpretation. Revelation 16:15 " Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame". It is not specially saying atonement but it is saying we need to be clothed to cover our shame just like adam. – diego b Feb 24 '18 at 17:28
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    Thanks for comment. I never heard this theory before, it came to me one day while I was studying. I already knew it pointed to Christ, and that the covering symbolized atonement. But not the substitutional death part. You have already knew this for a long time? – diego b Mar 2 '18 at 23:21
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The Meaning of the Word Atone

The first usage of the word atone is the Bible is found in Genesis 6:14 and is translated as the verb cover, coat, or pitch depending on the translation:

Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. (ESV)

So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. (NIV)

Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. (KJV)

Make thee an ark of gopher wood; with rooms shalt thou make the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. (JPS)

Since this is the first usage, I would argue that this is the literal, prototypical meaning which gives rise to the later, more figurative meaning of reconcile, make amends, or propitiate.

The reason animal sacrifices atone (reconcile, make amends, propitiate) is that they cover the sin of the person being atoned.

This can be seen clearly when we trace the concept of animal sacrifice back to it's original formation. As early as the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4) the concept of animal sacrifice sounds like an established institution. This points us back to Genesis 2 and 3 where we find the following narrative arc:

A) Naked an unashamed

This is the initial condition of Adam and Eve before they have sinned.

And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Gen 2:25 ESV)

B) Naked and ashamed

As soon as Adam and Eve disobey and eat the forbidden fruit, they are aware of their shameful nakedness.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (Gen 3:7 ESV)

C) Futile Self Covering

They attempt to cover themselves with fig leaves, but these attempts are futile. They can not cover their shame, are now afraid to see God and hide from him.

And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Gen 3:10,11 ESV)

D) God covers their nakedness

And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. (Gen 3:21 ESV)

E) Animal Sacrifice

Whereas Adam and Eve's attempts to use fig leaves fails to cover their nakedness, God succeeds by sacrificing animals and using their skins to clothe Adam and Eve.

The symbolism here contrasts Adam and Eve's own methods to cover themselves (from the ground which is cursed because of them) to God's methods (which require a bloody sacrifice).

The Basis of the Sacrificial System

The whole system of animal sacrifice exercised by Abel, Noah, Abraham, and the other patriarchs finds its genesis in God's action here before it is codified in the Law of Moses.

The practice finds its ultimate fulfillment in the Suffering Servant of Isaiah:

He was despised, and forsaken of men, A man of pains, and acquainted with disease,
  And as one from whom men hide their face:
  He was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried;
  Whereas we did esteem him stricken,
  Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded because of our transgressions,
  He was crushed because of our iniquities:
  The chastisement of our welfare was upon him,
  And with his stripes we were healed.
All we like sheep did go astray,
  We turned every one to his own way;
  And the LORD hath made to light on him
  The iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, though he humbled himself
  And opened not his mouth;
  As a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
  And as a sheep that before her shearers is dumb;
  Yea, he opened not his mouth.

(Isa 53:3-7 JPS)

Animal Sacrifice for the covering of sin therefore prefigures the Messiah, who will accomplish this for his people. This is the seed of the woman whose stricken heal will crush the serpent's head.

Acted out by Abraham

We see an excellent example of this pattern in Abraham, the man of faith to whom the promises are given. Abraham appears to understand this principle and acts on it in faith.

He [God] said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Gen 22:2 ESV)

Though he is told to sacrifice his only son, whom he loves, he believes God will provide his own lamb and acts on this belief.

And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. (Gen 22:7,8 ESV)

And following through, he is stopped by God who does indeed provide his own sacrifice:

He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” (Gen 22:12-14 ESV)

Intrinsic to the Meaning of Atonement

God's action of clothing Adam and Even is intrinsic to the meaning of atonement rather than incidental or secondary. Atonement is the very process of God providing a covering for sin through a blood sacrifice as he did literally for Adam and Eve.

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