What does "reconcile" mean?


I wrote up a study of the word “reconcile” because it seems to come up fairly often. In discussing Colossians 1:20 with my pastor a couple of weeks ago, I asked him what the passage would seem to mean, taken just by itself, without reference to any other texts. He replied that it depends on what “reconcile” means – and I don’t know if this was because he really doesn’t know what the word means or because he was (understandably :wink: ) unwilling to be cornered into agreeing that the passage sounds universalistic. I didn’t pursue the issue, but I will be sending this to him for his consideration.

This subject has also been brought up recently here and here.

The question at hand is: Can “reconcile” mean anything other than a restoration to friendly/right relationship?

The word in English:
from Merriam Webster online::
reconcile, transitive verb
1a : to restore to friendship or harmony b : settle, resolve
2: to make consistent or congruous
3: to cause to submit to or accept something unpleasant
4a : to check (a financial account) against another for accuracy b : to account for

Meaning #1 seems to be the only definition that pertains to relations between persons.

Meaning #2 seems to deal more with ideas and knowledge than personal relationships.

Meaning #3 I can understand how a person might appeal to this one to avoid universalist implications in some verses–in fact I’ve seen it done–but I can’t quite make that work in my mind. For example, could you say that a woman is reconciled to her husband, but she still hates him? I guess you could, but to me it seems like a big stretch to use the word in this sense in the context of a relationship.

I also like to look at word roots to get an idea of a word’s development and change and to help determine its older and truer sense:
From the Online Etymology Dictionary:
reconcile c.1300, of persons, from L. reconcilare “to bring together again,” from re- “again” + concilare “make friendly” (see conciliate). Reflexive sense is recorded from 1530s. Meaning “to make (discordant facts or statements) consistent” is from 1560s.

This would seem to support my choosing of #1, above, as the best meaning of the word in reference to relations between people.

Looking at English definitions is only of limited use, since the actual words we’re dealing with are Greek. Below is a list of the Greek words which are translated “reconcile” and the places they are found in the New Testament. I have each of the words listed, followed by the verses where the word appears with the relevant word underlined. As far as I know, all verses are from the KJV. And I did not include definitions, since I was interested in judging meaning from context, but the Greek words are all linked to their lexicon pages on BlueLetterBible.

καταλλαγή (G2643), feminine noun, from καταλλάσσω (G2644)

Rom 5:11 And not only [so], but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.

Rom 11:15 For if the casting away of them [be] the reconciling of the world, what [shall] the receiving [of them be], but life from the dead?

2 Cor 5:18 And all things [are] of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;

2 Cor 5:19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

ἀποκαταλλάσσω (G604), verb, from ἀπό (G575) and καταλλάσσω (G2644)

Eph 2:16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:

Col 1:20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, *, whether [they be] things in earth, or things in heaven.

Col 1:21 And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in [your] mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled

καταλλάσσω (G2644), verb, from κατά (G2596) and ἀλλάσσω (G236)

Rom 5:10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

1 Cor 7:11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to [her] husband: and let not the husband put away [his] wife.

2 Cor 5:18 And all things [are] of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;

2 Cor 5:19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

2 Cor 5:20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech [you] by us: we pray [you] in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

διαλλάσσω (G1259), verb, from διά (G1223) and ἀλλάσσω (G236)

Matt 5:24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

For me, simply looking at the usage of the words in their contexts is enough to confirm in my mind the idea that “reconcile” means “to restore to harmony and friendship.”

It also strikes me, looking at Rom 5:11 where ‘reconciliation’ is translated ‘atonement’ in the KJV, that it might have made it less confusing if we consistently translated the word that way! :sunglasses: But then maybe people would just argue that ‘atonement’ doesn’t always mean ‘in a saving sense’. :neutral_face:

Some brief comments:
Rom 5 – The state of being “reconciled” is contrasted with the previous state of being enemies
Rom 11 – “Reconciling” of the world is contrasted with the “casting away” of Israel
1 Cor 7 – Clearly “reconciled” to her husband indicates a restoration of the relationship
2 Cor 5 – “Reconciled” is equated with having been made a new creature in Christ. Believers are charged with the ministry of reconciliation, that is to carry the message to the world that God is not counting their sins against them, and urging them to be reconciled to God.
Eph 2 – To “reconcile” Jew and Gentile to God includes destroying the emnity between them.
Col 1 – “Reconcile” means to make peace and means that formerly wicked, alienated enemies are now holy, unblameable, and unreproveable in the sight of God

So, to return to my opening question, “Can ‘reconcile’ possibly mean anything other than restoration to friendly relationship?”

I’m convinced that it doesn’t.

Your comments, suggestions, additions, or criticisms are appreciated!


I haven’t read all the post yet, however, it’s interesting you bring it up, as over on Joe’s blog, he was trying to push that “reconcile” just meant “subjugation” :astonished: :open_mouth:


I’d follow MacDonald’s Rule (coined a new term! yay me! :stuck_out_tongue: ) in dealing with the definition of “reconcile” anyway. :laughing:

“If it isn’t worthy, reject it” - “Believe the higher idea.”


Excellent work, Sonia! I’m inclined to agree with you. But you know, even if it could be shown that reconciliation could mean something less friendly, it would be impossible to make such a case in Colossians 1 because Paul doesn’t allow it. He tells us himself how he’s using the word in 1:21,22:

21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— 23 if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.

So he starts out, I think talking very clearly, using the words “reconcile, peace, blood, cross”, then he clarifies that this reconciliation that is a peaceful one by the blood on the cross is also one that takes “evil” persons and presents them “holy and blameless” and “in the faith”. Finally he ends the section with the phrase “hope of the gospel”. I don’t think Paul could be any clearer about what he means in this situation about reconciliation. Folks can speculate all they want, but Paul tells us outright that this reconciliation is salvific. As I said to Joe, and I think I got this from Robin, “you show me a person in an eternal hell and I’ll show you a person who has NOT been reconciled to God through Christ.”


Now that I’ve read all of Sonia’s post, I would just like to add my thanks and agreement with what you have written.

I think the closest that “reconciliation” can get to “subjugation”, is if the people are willingly submitting themselves to God out of love, in the same way that Christ does. Otherwise, I think the reader isn’t taking into account the positive connotations of the word reconcile.


I especially like Vine’s definition (in the last one quoted), ““to change from one condition to another,” so as to remove all enmity and leave no impediment to unity and peace”.

604 ἀποκαταλλάσσω [apokatallasso /ap·ok·at·al·las·so/] v. From 575 and 2644; TDNT 1:258; TDNTA 40; GK 639; Three occurrences; AV translates as “reconcile” three times. 1 to reconcile completely. 2 to reconcile back again, bring back a former state of harmony. Strong, J. 1996. The exhaustive concordance of the Bible : Showing every word of the test of the common English version of the canonical books, and every occurence of each word in regular order. (electronic ed.) . Woodside Bible Fellowship.: Ontario]

639 ἀποκαταλλάσσω (apokatallassō): vb.; ≡ Str 604; TDNT 1.258—LN 40.1 **reconcile, reunite **(Eph 2:16; Col 1:20, 22+)
Swanson, J. 1997. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.) . Logos Research Systems, Inc.: Oak Harbor]

A. Verbs.

  1. **katallasso **(καταλλάσσω, 2644) properly denotes “to change, exchange” (especially of money); hence, of persons, “to change from enmity to friendship, to reconcile.” With regard to the relationship between God and man, the use of this and connected words shows that primarily “reconciliation” is what God accomplishes, exercising His grace towards sinful man on the ground of the death of Christ in propitiatory sacrifice under the judgment due to sin, 2 Cor. 5:19, where both the verb and the noun are used (cf. No. 2, in Col. 1:21). By reason of this men in their sinful condition and alienation from God are invited to be “reconciled” to Him; that is to say, to change their attitude, and accept the provision God has made, whereby their sins can be remitted and they themselves be justified in His sight in Christ.

Rom. 5:10 expresses this in another way: “For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son …”; that we were “enemies” not only expresses man’s hostile attitude to God but signifies that until this change of attitude takes place men are under condemnation, exposed to God’s wrath. The death of His Son is the means of the removal of this, and thus we “receive the reconciliation,” v. 11, rv. This stresses the attitude of God’s favor toward us. The kjv rendering “atonement” is incorrect. Atonement is the offering itself of Christ under divine judgment upon sin. We do not receive atonement. What we do receive is the result, namely, “reconciliation.”

The removal of God’s wrath does not contravene His immutability. He always acts according to His unchanging righteousness and lovingkindness, and it is because He changes not that His relative attitude does change towards those who change. All His acts show that He is Light and Love. Anger, where there is no personal element, is a sign of moral health if, and if only, it is accompanied by grief. There can be truest love along with righteous indignation, Mark 3:5, but love and enmity cannot exist together. It is important to distinguish “wrath” and “hostility.” The change in God’s relative attitude toward those who receive the “reconciliation” only proves His real unchangeableness. Not once is God said to be “reconciled.” The enmity is alone on our part. It was we who needed to be “reconciled” to God, not God to us, and it is propitiation, which His righteousness and mercy have provided, that makes the “reconciliation” possible to those who receive it.

When the writers of the NT speak upon the subject of the wrath of God, “the hostility is represented not as on the part of God, but of man. And this is the reason why the apostle never uses diallasso [a word used only in Matt. 5:24, in the NT] in this connection, but always katallasso, because the former word denotes mutual concession after mutual hostility [frequently exemplified in the Sept.], an idea absent from katallasso” (Lightfoot, Notes on the Epistles of Paul, p. 288).

The subject finds its great unfolding in 2 Cor. 5:18-20, which states that God “reconciled us (believers) to Himself through Christ,” and that “the ministry of reconciliation” consists in this, “that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” The insertion of a comma in the kjv after the word “Christ” is misleading; the doctrine stated here is not that God was in Christ (the unity of the Godhead is not here in view), but that what God has done in the matter of reconciliation He has done in Christ, and this is based upon the fact that “Him who knew no sin He made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” On this ground the command to men is “be ye reconciled to God.”
The verb is used elsewhere in 1 Cor. 7:11, of a woman returning to her husband.¶

  1. **apokatallsso **(ἀποκαταλλάσσω, 604), “to reconcile completely” (apo, from, and No. 1), a stronger form of No. 1, “to change from one condition to another,” so as to remove all enmity and leave no impediment to unity and peace, is used in Eph. 2:16, of the “reconciliation” of believing Jew and Gentile “in one body unto God through the Cross”; in Col. 1:21 not the union of Jew and Gentile is in view, but the change wrought in the individual believer from alienation and enmity, on account of evil works, to “reconciliation” with God; in v. 20 the word is used of the divine purpose to “reconcile” through Christ “all things unto Himself … whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens,” the basis of the change being the peace effected “through the blood of His Cross.” It is the divine purpose, on the ground of the work of Christ accomplished on the cross, to bring the whole universe, except rebellious angels and unbelieving man, into full accord with the mind of God, Eph. 1:10. Things “under the earth,” Phil. 2:10, are subdued, not “reconciled.”¶ Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W. 1996. Vine’s complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words . T. Nelson: Nashville]

It is sad that Vine arbitrarily adds “except rebellious angels and unbelieving man” as an exclusion to the “all things” of Col. 1:21. I say that such addition is “arbitrary” because the text does not note or imply such an exclusion.


And of course, reconcile is closely associated with “having made peace”, synonomous even.

1517 εἰρηνοποιέω [eirenopoieo /i·ray·nop·oy·eh·o/] v. From 1518; TDNT 2:419; TDNTA 207; GK 1647; AV translates as “make peace” once. 1 to make peace, establish harmony. [Strong, J. 1996. The exhaustive concordance of the Bible : Showing every word of the test of the common English version of the canonical books, and every occurence of each word in regular order. (electronic ed.) . Woodside Bible Fellowship.: Ontario]

  1. εἰρηνοποιέω ĕirēnŏpŏiĕō, i-ray-nop-oy-eh´-o; from 1518; to be a peace-maker, i.e. (fig.) to harmonize:— make peace.
    [Strong, J. 1997, c1996. The new Strong’s dictionary of Hebrew and Greek words . Thomas Nelson: Nashville]

1647 εἰρηνοποιέω (eirēnopoieō): vb.; ≡ Str 1517; TDNT 2.419—LN 40.4 make peace (Col 1:20+)
[Swanson, J. 1997. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.) . Logos Research Systems, Inc.: Oak Harbor]

How are the “rebellious” brought into harmony and peace? Through repentance.
How are “unbelievers” brought into harmony and peace? Through repentance.
How are enemies brought into harmony and peace? Through repentance.

Both words “making peace” and “reconcile” speak of both a state of enmity/war, and a state of peace. In Fact, one cannot “make peace” or be “reconciled” unless there is enmity! Enmity had to come in order for Reconciliation to occur. Without Enmity, there is no Reconciliation.


Thanks for your input, Sherman!

Yes, it really is too bad that he does this. His description is right on until he gets to that bit, and nothing in the passage even hints of any such exclusion. He says that those – which he puts in the category of “under the earth” – will be “subdued” rather than reconciled, and it looks like he’s trying to use Phil 2:10 to support that. Interestingly, Phil 2:10 merely says that “every knee will bow” and “every tongue confess” of things in heaven, on earth and under the earth – which I would take to be an inclusive statement – another way of saying “all things”. Nothing in that passage indicates that this is the unwilling subjugation of rebellious hearts. Even if “things under the earth” refers to the formerly rebellious, the imagery is that of repentance, confession, and praise.


A Non-UR Way To Accept UR Scripture Passages At Face Value?

Paul is actually quoting Isaiah, and in the Isaiah passage it is clear that bowing is an act of worship and adoration, and confessing is actually proclaiming one’s allegiance to. In order to believe ECT one must either say that “every” does not mean “every”, or one must re-interpret “bow” and “confess” to NOT speak of devotion and worship. As you know, there are many such passages that at “face value” affirm UR. In order for ECT to be accepted as true, these passages must be interpreted in such a way so as to contradict what they affirm at “face value”.