Exegetical Notes — The Meaning of “Kipper”, “Atone.” -- By: R. Laird Harris

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 04:1 (Apr 1961)
Article: Exegetical Notes — The Meaning of “Kipper”, “Atone.”
Author: R. Laird Harris


Exegetical Notes — The Meaning of “Kipper”, “Atone.”

R. Laird Harris

Covenant College and Seminary

The root kpr is defined as meaning “probable cover” in Brown, Driver and Briggs’ Lexicon and similarly in Koehler-Baumgartner. These lexicons and many other sources (as the Scofield Bible note to Ex. 29:29) argue from this meaning that the OT symbolism involved a covering over of sin or a temporary dealing, without the concept of reconciliation. The usage of the words, however, makes this definition questionable.

There are apparently four roots, kpr. One means “village.” A second gives us the name of a young lion. Another gives us the word kopher “pitch.” The final one is said to mean “cover.” We have to do only with the latter two.

The Qal stem of kaphar “cover” is not used in the OT. The alleged meaning “cover” is derived from an Arabic cognate, “cover,” or “hide,” or an Akkadian and Aramaic root “wipe off,” “rub off.” Actually, the OT witnesses only to a noun kopher and other terms derived from that noun. The noun kopher is used 13 times. It is translated “bribe” twice, “a ransom” eight times, “satisfaction” twice, and “sum of money” once. Concordance study of the verses show that in every case a substitution price is referred to. The word is never used to indicate a cover or covering of any kind.

The verb kipper is used, however, 92 times in the Piel, 7 times in the Pual, once in the Hithpael, and once in a Nithpael form. All of these stems may be used denominatively. That is, they may mean only that the verb is derived from the simple noun form. For instance, the noun dabhar “word,” gives rise to the denominative verb in the Piel, dibber “to speak.” So the word kopher “ransom,” should give rise to the denominative Piel form kipper “to give a ransom,” and indeed, the verb is so used. Not once does it refer to covering anything with anything. Most of the 92 instances speak of the ritual atonement by blood. It is totally unnecessary to import into these verses the idea of merely covering over sin. The ritual symbolically represents substitution. Only in one place, Genesis 32:20 could the meaning be stretched to mean “cover” — Jacob said, “I will appease his face with the gift.” This can just as well be rendered, “I will render him propitious by the gift.” The few uses of the other stems accord well with this meaning.

There are two nouns derived from this denominative verb, kippurim “atonement,” and kapporeth “mercy seat.” The first word is used eight times and always of the ritual atonement by substituted bl...

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