It was the middle of the afternoon, and Doctor Quinton had just finished his cup of tea, when there was quite a commotion outside the Annexe, in the main body of the College Library. Normally students are required to keep their talking down to whisper-level, so as not to disturb others at work, but this was an intrusion of a rare kind, and Doc decided to investigate. Was the Librarian not on duty? Why was the disturbance being allowed? Pushing open the swing doors, he stood transfixed, with his mouth open in astonishment. Suddenly the cluster of students, some half dozen in number, saw the Doctor standing there. The complete silence that followed was only broken by Doc’s question.
“We’re very sorry, sir. . . . Yes, it was against Library rules. . . . We should have been discussing it outside. . . . No, sir, we won’t do it again. . . . . We’re all rather upset. . . . It was about our essays, sir. . . . We’ve just had them returned, and we’re angry about the marks. . . . Yes, sir, if you like. . . . Thank you for inviting us.”
These and other comments were all thrown out, one by one, before they finally trooped into the Annexe, and having grabbed chairs from wherever they could find them, seated themselves around Doc’s table in the corner. They were all first-year students.
“Now supposing you all calm down,” began Doc, “and tell me exactly what apparent injustice has brought you to this state of agitation. Who will act as spokesman?”
They looked at each other. “Go on, Jeremy, you can explain it best.”
Jeremy Mason looked down at some sheets of paper on his lap, before addressing the Doctor. “It’s about our essays, sir. We were told to write an essay on the subject of “Atonement in the New Testament,” and we were all keen to do justice to such an important matter. After all, most of us look forward to becoming preachers or teachers in the coming years, and this would be the crux of our message, the Lord’s Atonement for our sins.”
“And what happened?” asked Doc.
“We’ve all written at length, and with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but Dr Lucas has marked us all down at 5%. We think that is either a sick joke, or else he doesn’t recognise good exposition when he sees it. Naturally, it has made us very upset, and we were talking it over in the Library, wondering what to do about it.”
“Did anyone in your group get better marks?” asked Doc.
“Fairweather got 60% for less than a page.”
“How was that?”
“He refused to say, and wouldn’t let us see what he’d written,” said one of the other students.
“Well, perhaps you’d better go and find him, and we’ll see whether we can find some light in this present darkness,” said Doc.
Fairweather appeared after some minutes, and joined the group. He looked a trifle nervous,realising he was the odd-man-out. Doc asked whether he minded sharing the contents of his essay.
“Since you ask, sir, no, I don’t mind. It’s just that Dr Lucas wrote at the bottom of the page, ‘Share this with no one until we meet for tutorial on Wednesday.’ So I was just being obedient to his request.”
The other students looked at each other with bewilderment, their foreheads bearing unmistakeable frowns. Fairweather looked a little scared, but cleared his throat and began to explain.
“I did some work on this subject, sir. I looked up the word in the concordance, and found only one reference to Atonement, in Romans, and when I checked that out, found it to be a mistranslation. I was left with the fact that the New Testament said absolutely nothing about Atonement. So I wrote on that basis, and it was a rather brief essay, but apparently it was acceptable because of the mark I was given.”
Anger burst forth from the other students, and it took a few moments before Doc could settle them down again.
“Fairweather may be right, sir, from the position of the concordance,” said Mason, “but the truth of the matter is that Atonement is the big subject of the New Testament. Christ’s death and resurrection have brought about the Atonement, or as many people put it, At-One-Ment, our restoration to God from our state of sin. That’s what we have all been writing about, and what do we get? A measly 5%. It’s totally unfair. Fairweather has produced a mere negative response, whilst all of us have fleshed the matter out in varying degrees of positive affirmation.”
Doctor Quinton sat there looking at each in turn, and gradually he began to chuckle inaudibly, and his round face became redder that its normal quota. “Dr Lucas does this every year, and I think he finds it a useful way of making an indelible impression on the minds of his classes.”
“What do you mean, sir?” asked Henson.
“Well, I suppose I must spill the beans, but I would rather have left it to Dr Lucas, as it was his programme of work, wasn’t it? Now then, which one of you can tell me the Biblical meaning of the word translated atonement in the Old Testament?”
“I can, sir,” said Fairweather. “I should have written a bit more about it, and then I might have got a better mark than 60%. The Hebrew word KAPHAR means ‘to cover over’ something. The first occurrence is in the Flood sequence, and is used to describe the protective nature of the pitch that covered the ark timbers to keep out the flood waters. It then followed that the shed blood of the animal sacrifices provided an ideal covering for man from God’s wrath as a result of sin. But as Hebrews points out, the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin. That was left to the only sacrifice that had any permanent effect. The blood of Christ doesn’t cover over man’s sin, it takes it away permanently. That’s why we frequently read the expression ‘much more’ in Paul’s writings. As a result, I now think it is an insult to speak about ‘Christ’s atonement’. It reduces His work to little more than the blood of a bull or a lamb. What the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament were unable to achieve, Christ’s death and resurrection achieved. The old blood sacrifices provided Israel with an ideal covering for the time, by God’s gracious provision for them, and those who obeyed the law in this respect were justified by faith, but the removal of sin was a job for the Son of God alone.”
“Magnificent!” said Doc, clapping his hands.
“Magnificent!” said another voice, causing all the students to spin round, there to see Dr Lucas at the back of the Annexe. Dr Quinton knew of his presence, but never gave the game away.
“Yes, I have listened to all your conversation,” said Dr Lucas. “And I agree with Dr Quinton. It was excellent, Fairweather. You certainly have the facts at your finger tips, and I applaud you for the way in which you expressed yourself just now. And yes, if you had added the more positive side to your essay, I would have given you 80% or more. My purpose in doing this, each year, is to bring out the very point you have just expounded, that when you leave this College, and stand before crowds, or in a pulpit teaching, you will show the contrast between the Old Testament and the New in this respect. Focus of the ‘much mores’ and high-light the great work of our Saviour. The message of the Gospel is the greatest, and most joy-engendering truth the world can ever hear. Give glory to God’s Son for His wonderful work. Not atonement, but restoration; not covering but banishment of sin, and the bestowing of a New Nature in which God’s own righteousness by faith is imparted. . . . But one word of caution.Don’t allow this truth to become a polemical argument. Never try to correct a preacher who uses the word atonement. He knows the truth, but being unenlightened, uses the wrong word to describe it. The Holy Spirit will use the ‘foolishness of preaching’ and bring conviction regardless. Take him on one side afterwards if you will, but remember that you were all of thesame mind as him until today.”
All the anger dissipated, and gave way to laughter, as they rejoiced in their enlightenment, and Dr Lucas said that he would make no record of their essay marks. Rather did he ask them to write a new essay, containing their new understanding, and he would mark them instead. They were all happy and contented, and left the Annexe with as much noise as they had made before, (to the Librarian’s consternation!) but for quite a different reason.