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RECONCILIATION (rĕk'ŏn-sĭl-ĭ-ā’shŭn, Gr. katallagē). Reconciliation is a change of relationship between God and man based on the changed status of man through the redemptive work of Christ. Three aspects of this change are suggested by three words used for it in the NT.

1. A reconciliation of persons between whom there has existed a state of enmity. The Greek katallassō denotes an “exchange” which, when applied to persons, suggests an exchange from enmity to fellowship. Reconciliation is, therefore, God’s exercise of grace toward man who is in enmity because of sin, establishing in Christ’s redemptive work the basis of this changed relationship of persons (2Cor.5.19). That this reconciliation is the burden of God is shown by Rom.5.10 where it is suggested that even while we were enemies, God reconciled us to himself through the death of his son.

This changed relationship, however, is possible only because of the changed status of man, not of God. God is never said to be reconciled to man, but man to God, since it is man’s sinfulness that creates the enmity (Rom.8.7; Col.1.21). This enmity precipitates God’s wrath (Eph.2.3, Eph.2.5) and judgment (2Cor.5.10), which is allayed only through the reconciliation brought about through the death of Christ (Rom.5.10), who knew no sin but became sin for us that we might receive his righteousness as the basis of reconciliation.

2. A reconciliation of condition so that all basis of the enmity relationship is removed and a complete basis of fellowship is established (2Cor.5.18-2Cor.5.20; Eph.2.16). Apokatallassō denotes a “movement out of” and suggests that since man is redeemed through the righteousness of Christ he is redeemed out of his condition of unrighteousness and thus reconciled to God in this new relationship. The grace of God assures the reconciled person that the grace basis replaces the sin basis and that he or she is established before God in a new relationship.

3. A reconciliation arising out of the change in man induced by the action of God. Katallagē suggests that man is not reconciled merely because his relationship has changed, but because God has changed him through Christ so that he can be reconciled (Rom.5.11; Rom.11.15; 2Cor.5.18; Eph.2.5). Reconciliation arises, therefore, out of God, through Christ, to man, so that not only may the barriers to fellowship existing in sinful person be removed, but the positive basis for fellowship may be established through the righteousness of Christ imputed to man.

The definitive basis for reconciliation rests both in what God does in annulling the effects of sin in a person so that no enmity exists and in what he does in creating a redeemed nature in that person so that there can be fellowship between God and the redeemed one. Reconciliation is always preeminently God working in man to change the basis of relationship. Yet people are (1) given the ministry of reconciliation (2Cor.5.18) and (2) invited to be reconciled to God (2Cor.5.20). From his position of being reconciled, as accomplished as fact, man is to turn to God to respond to the new relationship in faith and obedience.

Even though the sufficient ground of reconciliation is established in the completed redemptive work of Christ, reconciliation is the basis on which the continued fellowship is established, “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Rom.5.10).——CBB

RECONCILIATION. Reconciliation is bringing again into unity, harmony, or agreement what has been alienated. According to Biblical teaching, there is need for reconciliation between God and man because of the alienation between them which has its source in human sin and the righteous aversion to it and hatred of it on the part of God. The Bible teaches that God Himself has provided the means of reconciliation through the death of His Son Jesus Christ.

The Biblical data.

When reconciliation has its full Biblical meaning of salvation, the alienation it removes is clearly the result of sin (Isa 59:12). This is apparent from 2 Corinthians 5:19, where reconciliation is brought into connection with God’s not imputing trespasses. In more than one place in Paul’s letters reconciliation appears as the parallel and equivalent of justification (Rom 5:9, 10; 2 Cor 3:9; 5:18). This is not strange because the means of reconciliation is the death of God’s Son (Rom 5:10). The purpose of sacrificial death is expiation. The death of Jesus Christ and the imputation of His righteousness to the sinner is ground for removing the cause of alienation between God and man, namely, the guilt of sin.

But “reconciliation” has a broader meaning than “justification.” The word katallagē derives from the socio-economic sphere (cf. 1 Cor 7:11). It speaks in general of the restoration of a proper relationship between two parties. It refers broadly to overcoming an enmity, without specifying how this enmity is removed. In Paul’s writings the word katallage is contrasted many times with “enmity” and “alienation” (Rom 5:10; Eph 2:14f.; Col 1:22). In the positive sense it has the meaning of “peace” (Rom 5:1, 10; Eph 2:15f.; Col 1:20f.). The removal of the reason for alienation brings about a condition of peace between the warring parties.

In its Biblical sense, “peace” is the inclusive term referring to the restoration of fellowship between God and man. The inclusive sense of “reconciliation,” as it is used regarding salvation, that is, overcoming of enmity and alienation, is reflected in what it has in view, namely, the restoration of peace between God and man. Thus Paul can exult, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1).

The Bible teaching is that peace is brought about by the death of Christ. We are reconciled in the body of His flesh through death (Col 1:22). Romans 5:10 speaks of having been reconciled by the death of Christ. Colossians 1:20 speaks of God’s having made peace through the blood of Christ’s cross.

“Reconciliation” is used also in connection with the uniting of the Gentiles with the covenant line (Rom 11:15). In this passage the characteristic traits of reconciliation are present. Paul says of the Gentiles that they were without Christ, aliens from Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise. They were far off and foreign. Christ is the One who brings peace, who preached peace, who is our peace. He is said to have removed and to have abolished enmity, to have brought the Gentile near, and to have made of Gentile and Jew one. Gentile and Jew have been brought into a single commonwealth. What is in mind is not directly the removal of enmity between God and man but the abolishing of the distinction in Christ of Jew and Gentile. Nevertheless, what separated them is identified as the law. It is by the cross of Christ that what separated them, the enmity, has been broken down. Thus they could be brought together and united in one body. Of two Christ made one new man, thus making peace (Eph 2:16).

This and the other elements of reconciliation must be seen against the background of the all-embracing purpose of God to reconcile all things to Himself through Jesus Christ (Col 1:20f.). This indicates the scope of the idea of reconciliation. Having made peace through the blood of Christ’s cross, God has the great purpose of reconciling to Himself all things in heaven and in earth.

Thus it is possible to speak of the Gospel of salvation in its broadest scope as the “ministry of reconciliation” and the appeal of the Gospel to the sinner as the call to be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20).

Doctrinal formulation.

The doctrine of reconciliation brings into focus man’s alienation from God because of sin and God’s provision for restoring man to His favor. In its most embracive meaning reconciliation has to do with the removal of that which stands in the way of the proper relationship between God and the world in the most inclusive sense of the word. Thus it must have in its purview all the facets of the restoration of the world, including the final reconciliation of all things in Christ to the Father at the last day.

The Scripture passages which refer explicitly to reconciliation invariably speak of man’s being reconciled to God and not of God’s being reconciled to man. At first sight, it might be thought that there are Scriptural grounds for concluding, with liberalism, that the alienation was altogether on the side of man. Liberalism taught that there was an alienation of man from God, but that it was entirely from man’s side. It would not admit that God was estranged. God remained always the same, always favorably inclined toward mankind, in spite of its weakness and sin.

That the Scriptures speak explicitly only of God’s reconciling man to Himself does not mean, however, that it is only man who has been alienated from God and not God from man. Because of sin mankind has come under the righteous judgment and curse of God. God is too holy to look upon sin; He recoils from it. This righteous judgment of God must be satisfied, and this satisfaction is accomplished, the Scriptures teach, by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The idea of sacrifice involves the idea of expiation for sin, which is necessary if God is to be reconciled. Although the Bible does not refer explicitly to God’s being reconciled, the Scriptural teaching will not allow that reconciliation be only on man’s part. Reconciliation is of God to man as well as of man to God.

Furthermore, the alienation involves more than a sense of estrangement on man’s part. This can be seen from Christ’s teaching in Matthew 5:23, 24. Christ commanded one who brings his gift to the altar and there remembers that his brother has a grievance against him to postpone making his offering until he has been reconciled to his brother. This command cannot be taken to mean simply that the one offering his gift should replace an attitude of animosity toward his brother with one of good will; for this he would not have to leave the altar. It means that he should remove whatever is the ground for his brother’s complaint against him. He should bring a change into the situation which occasioned alienation between them, so that he and his brother can again be in harmony. Christ teaches, therefore, that whatever is behind the alienation should be removed before the worshiper presents his sacrifice. Likewise in the relationship between God and man, it is not simply a question of an attitude on man’s part that must be changed. What must be changed is the condition of alienation which has arisen because of sin. If this alienation is to be removed, the ground of the alienation, namely, the guilt of sin, which deserves the divine wrath, condemnation, and curse, must be removed.

Since this is the case, it is not at all surprising that the scriptural teaching concerning reconciliation is brought into the most intimate connection with those of justification and the expiatory death of Jesus Christ. What effects reconciliation is the sacrifice of Christ, whereby the sinner is relieved of the guilt and the condemnation of sin and receives the righteousness of Christ imputed to him. Since release from condemnation involves also being freed from bondage by the payment of a ransom, reconciliation also has an intimate connection with redemption.

The new relationship between God and men, resulting from their reconciliation, is that of sonship. It is the result of adoption (cf. Gal 4:4f.). Adoption is the goal of the great divine purpose of reconciliation. It is a direct result of redemption, justification (Rom 3:25, 26; 4:25), and reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18, 19).

Contrary to liberalism, contemporary theology has had more place for the idea of divine wrath. It has had a greater place, therefore, for the idea that reconciliation involves God as well as man. Contemporary theologians have come to assert that the divine yes is at the foundation of every divine no. Karl Barth taught that all men are elected and are reconciled. They must only be brought to realize it.

Especially under the influence of Sören Kierkegaard and Karl Marx, the idea of alienation and estrangement has become a major theme of contemporary philosophy, theology, and literature. This accounts in great measure for the importance that the doctrine of reconciliation has assumed in current theological thought. The notion is often secularized, however, referring only to a reconciliation of one with his own deeper nature. Even in contemporary theology this secularizing tendency is present. Its peculiar tendencies do not allow contemporary theology to view reconciliation in its proper relationship to the sacrificial death of Christ, expiation, and the imputation of righteousness, all of which are essential to the Biblical doctrine. See Atonement.


J. Hastings, ed., art. “Reconciliation,” A Dictionary of the Bible (1902), IV, 204-207; G. C. Workman, At Onement or Reconciliation with God (1911); J. B. Champness, The Heart of the New Testament (1941); F. W. Dillistone, The Significance of the Cross (1944); A. W. Argyle, “The New Testament Interpretation of the Death of Our Lord,” The Expository Times, 60 (Oct., 1948-Sept., 1949), 253-256; J. Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied (1955); K. Barth, Church Dogmatics (1956), IV, i, ii; H. Ridderbos, Paulus: Ontwerp van zijn theologie (1966).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

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 1 Samuel 29:4

(4) Usage in the Apocrypha

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

3. Doctrinal Passages (1) Romans 5

(2) 2 Corinthians 5:18-20

(3) Ephesians 2:16

(4) Colossians 1:20-22


1. The Terms:

(1) New Testament Usage.

(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, 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:

(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" (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 Atonement; Propitiation; WRATH.


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