Can "good works" serve to "cover" ("atone" in Hebrew) for one's sins?The Literal Translation
The Jewish Publication Society
translation says: “Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.”
And this translation of "breaking off" matches the Protestant King James Version.
The word-for-word translation of this phrase from Strong's Hebrew dictionary says: "sin by righteousness break your iniquities showing to the poor". (http://biblos.com/daniel/4-27.htm
In Hebrew, "atonement" means "cover" or "ransom". "Breaking off" is a different word than the one for "atonement/cover/ransom."The Rabbinical View
Daniel 4:24(Judaica Press Tanakh) says: "Indeed, O king, may my counsel please you, and with charity you will remove your sin and your iniquity by showing mercy to the poor; perhaps your tranquility will last."
At first glance this sounds like the king was bearing some sins and could atone for them with charity.
The Rabbinical view, apparently based in part on this verse, is that good works act as an atonement. Thus, one rabbinical criticism of Christianity is that it wouldn't be necessary for the Messiah to die, since good works would be another way to act as an atonement.The Roman Catholic View
The Roman Catholic "New American Bible" translates Daniel 4:24 as:Therefore, O king, take my advice; atone for your sins by good deeds, and for your misdeeds by kindness to the poor; then your prosperity will be long."
Footnote:  A classic Scriptural text for the efficacy of good works
Another Catholic website lists Daniel 4:24 among "Biblical Texts which point to the existence of Purgatory"
It sounds like the Roman Catholic view is that "good works" act to "atone" for sins.
Although this matches the Rabbinical view, the Catholic translation is farther off than the Rabbinical translation, since the Rabbinical translation at least doesn't say "atone"The Protestant View
A Protestant commentary I read (http://www.defendproclaimthefaith.org/jewish_objection_atonement.htm
) explains that this verse is Daniel telling Nebuchadnezzar that if he ceased doing his sins by doing righteousness like helping the poor, then he might avoid disaster.Personally, It seems to me that the passage's words about "breaking off" from sin could be different from the idea of a religious cover or ransom from guilt (asham).
The Protestant view may be influenced by the Protestant idea of Sola Fide. The Protestant view is not that good works and following God aren't "necessary" or aren't part of being a righteous person.
Instead, the Protestant view of "Sola Fide" focuses on the specific way in which the blessings of Christ's atonement are transmitted. Protestantism says that faith is the spiritual instrument or vehicle by which we are "saved", or in "Protestant-speak": receive the blessings of the atonement, have our sins cleansed.(The Protestant concept of "getting saved" focuses on the Atonement & communion with Jesus, while Orthodox think about "being saved" in terms of a process of following God's example and becoming like Him. However, the narrow Protestant concept is a piece of the broader Orthodox term for Salvation. This is a tangent, because right now I am only focusing on the "Atonement" part of Orthodoxy.)
Still, I am not sure that Protestants would say faith itself acts as an atonement, but simply that it is an instrument or means connecting us to Christ so that we receive the atonement's blessings.What do you think the Orthodox View is?
I could see the Orthodox view matching the Protestant view and seeing the RC view as an incorrect development of its doctrine about merits and Purgatory that developed in Western Christianity in the Middle Ages. Perhaps the Rabbinical view could also be seen as a way of coping with the fact that atonement sacrifices weren't being performed anymore- although I think maybe some Judaic groups might still perform them.Side question: Can love and truth serve to Atone?
Another verse says that "[By] Lovingkindness and truth iniquity is purged and [by] the fear of the LORD men depart from evil" (Proverbs 16:6)
The Rabbinical view says that this means love can act to atone for sin, so it can be used instead of ritual sacrifice. However, I find this even less clear, because love is not an act like performing charity. Instead, it makes sense to see love as a motivation or spirit involved in or forwarding the process.
On the other hand, perhaps love does also serve as an atoning agent, that it is something that is involved with spiritually cleansing sins. But that doesn't mean nothing else is involved. For example, paint paints a house, but there is also a paintbrush and a painter involved.What do you think?