From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

Propitiation occurs in the apostolic literature of the NT only four times: (1)  Romans 3:25 as the rendering of ἱλαστήριον: ‘whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, by his blood, to shew his righteousness, because of the passing over of sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God’; (2) as the rendering of ἱλασμός,  1 John 2:2 : ‘and he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world’; (3)  1 John 4:10 : ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins’; (4) in RV_ it is also used in  Hebrews 2:17 as the translation of τὸ ἱλάσκεσθαι: ‘Wherefore it behoved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people’; ἱλαστήριον also occurs in  Hebrews 9:5, rendered ‘mercy-seat’ (RVm_ ‘Gr. the propitiatory’). These, with the verbal form ἱλάσθητι in the story of the Pharisee and the Publican ( Luke 18:13, ‘God be merciful,’ RVm_ ‘be propitiated’), and the use of the adjective ἵλεως twice ( Matthew 16:22,  Hebrews 8:12) constitute all the guidance afforded by the NT in seeking the meaning of ‘propitiation,’ a term of much importance in apostolic thought. Consequently we are largely dependent for help in its interpretation upon what we know of the use of cognate terms in the LXX_, and upon the ideas associated with their Hebrew equivalents in the OT; for the classical use of the Greek terms from Homer downwards helps mostly by contrast, presenting a usage different from that found in the LXX_ and the NT. (For details and discussion of Heb. and Gr. usage see art._ ‘Propitiation’ by Driver in HDB_; also for Gr. usage B. F. Westcott, Epistles of St. John 3, p. 85 f., and an interesting discussion in T. V. Tymms, The Christian Idea of Atonement, p. 191 ff.; and for the opposite view, maintaining the classical and pagan use of the Gr. term in the apostolic literature, see G. Smeaton, The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement, p. 455 ff.) H. Bushnell also maintains that the language of Scripture accords with the pagan idea of propitiation, but he rejects the idea itself on ethical grounds, suggesting that the apostolic writers did not really mean what their words mean-an evasion which creates an exegetical impasse (cf. The Vicarious Sacrifice, London, 1866, p. 447 ff.).

In classical Greek the verb ‘propitiate’ (ἱλάσκομαι) is common, but it is construed regularly with the accusative of the deity (or person) propitiated. This construction is never used by apostolic writers; it is very rarely found in the LXX_, even when used of a human subject (cf.  Genesis 32:20,  Zechariah 7:2,  Proverbs 16:14). In the LXX_ it is commonly construed with περί (‘on behalf of’), followed by the person on whose behalf the propitiatory act is performed. This difference of construction marks a difference between pagan and biblical ideas; for although propitiating God may be indirectly involved in phrases used in the OT, it is not direct and prominent as in non-biblical writers. The restoration of God’s favour and the forgiveness of the worshipper are generally the aim of the propitiatory sacrifice (cf.  Leviticus 4:20); but the idea of directly appeasing one who is angry with a personal resentment against the offender, which is implied when the deity is the direct object of the verb, is foreign to biblical usage. This distinction of usage corresponds with the fact that the higher biblical conception of God is more ethical and less anthropomorphic than the conception in heathen writers; it also accords with the fact that the Hebrew term represented in the LXX_ by ἰλάσκομαι and its derivatives early came to be used in a specialized rather than in a literal sense in its application to the acknowledged ethical relations between the God of Israel and His people. The root meaning of this term (kipper, ëÌÄôÌÈø) is probably ‘cover over’; so Arabic also; the Syriac (and probably the Assyrian) cognate = ‘wipe’ (cf.  Proverbs 30:20), or ‘wipe away,’ e.g. tears or sins, and therefore ‘disperse’ or ‘abolish.’ W. R. Smith (The OT in the Jewish Church, Edinburgh, 1881, p. 438 f.) adopts the latter as the primary meaning-e.g., ‘to wipe clean the face blackened by displeasure’ (cf.  Genesis 32:21). Obviously both ‘cover over’ and ‘wipe away’ are convenient metaphors for the common idea of rendering null and void; the OT supplies frequent examples of the use of each in regard to sin (cf.  Psalms 32:1;  Psalms 85:2,  Isaiah 43:25;  Isaiah 44:22,  Jeremiah 18:23; see also HDB_ iv. 128; P. Haupt in JBL_ xix. [1900] 61, 80). But in OT theological terminology, kipper, which holds an important place, is used always in a figurative or moral sense with the collateral idea, which in time became the dominant if not the exclusive one, of conciliating an offended person or screening an offence or offender. Guilt is covered or withdrawn from the sight of the person propitiated, so that the way is clear for the guilty to approach him with confidence. G. F. Moore objects altogether to the use of etymological meanings, as a fault of method, and as fruitful of error. Plain facts of usage, which suggest no reference to ‘wiping out’ or ‘covering,’ are the sole guide for interpreting the term (cf. EBi_ iv. 4220). Several points in the OT usage should be carefully noted. (a) Its subject is usually either God or the priest; its means, when indicated, either a gift or a sacrifice. (b) Its use in the Levitical system is especially associated with the sin-offering, whose characteristic potence lies in the blood of the sacrifice, because ‘the blood is the life,’ and it is followed by ‘it shall be forgiven him’ in reference to sin; whether the fault is ritual or moral is not always clearly distinguished. (c) The idea of appeasing God in the heathen sense by offering Him an inducement to alter His disposition towards the offerer is absent, ‘nor is it ever implied that the offerer of such a sacrifice is outside God’s dispensation of grace, or the object of His wrath’ (Driver, HDB_ iv. 131); the propitiation is Divinely appointed; the motive as far as indicated is the grace of God. (d) The idea of the offender hiding or covering his sin is not tolerated; he is to confess and repent of it: ‘the object is never the sin, but the person (or thing) on whose behalf the offering is made’ (ib. iv. 130). (e) Propitiation was only for unintentional sins (except in four specified cases); for deliberate and wilful sin-sin ‘with a high hand’-propitiatory provision was not made.

With some such connotation as here suggested the Hebrew term for ‘propitiation’ passed on through the LXX_ from OT usage to that of the apostolic writers, possibly hardened also by the priestly and Rabbinical emphasis of their times. It became for them a naturally serviceable term in which to state and interpret into current forms of religious speech the new experience of God’s act of forgiveness of sins, which they unhesitatingly connected directly with the suffering death of Jesus Christ. But this transition was made in the light of the conviction that the transcendent and final character of the redemptive work of Christ raised a term connected chiefly with legal and ritual significance into a realm of ethical and spiritual realities of which its ancient use had been merely typical and tentative. Moreover, the apostles’ application of the term as interpretative of the meaning of Christ’s offering of His sinless life to do away with the power of sin to separate between God and man was marked by a certain personal freedom of usage. This freedom expresses itself in differences discernible in the use of the NT term. The Pauline usage may be distinguished from that of the writer of the Johannine Epistles and from that adopted by the writer to the Hebrews. These apostolic writers held in common the fundamental idea that it was by an offering in His blood which Christ made in His death that He fulfilled a function analogous to, but infinitely transcending, that to which the term ‘propitiation’ was applied in the OT. By this means the grace of God was expressed towards man, and became efficacious through the removal of the obstacle raised by the sin that hindered the freedom and confidence of his access to God. But the propitiation was always of God’s providing, as it was also His setting forth. St. Paul in his use of the term is specially concerned to make clear ‘the setting forth’ of the propitiation in relation to the law of God’s righteousness; the Johannine writer uses it to declare the source of an actual cleansing from the defilement of sin, whilst the writer to the Hebrews chooses it to express the resultant privilege of the propitiation revealed in direct access to God in the sanctuary of His holiness. But this illustrative use of the term by these three apostolic writers, whilst it contributes figuratively to a legal, ethical, and ceremonial interpretation of the one reality of a common spiritual experience of redemption in Christ’s blood, involves no essential divergence in their respective teaching. Each writer selected a particular phase of the import of propitiation. This he did rather to meet the exigencies of the occasion for his writing than to indicate a difference of view respecting the historical fact or the spiritual experience involved; these last were central to all apostolic teaching. Consequently the several applications of ‘propitiation’ exhibit a diversity in unity. It seems improbable that practically the same term was used within nearly the same period in the primitive apostolic community with any essential difference of meaning, especially when we consider the common stock of OT and later Jewish ideas from which the term was taken over by each separate writer. Moreover, sin, whether regarded with St. Paul as guilt, with the Johannine writer as moral defilement, or with the writer to the Hebrews as a religious hindrance in access to God, is the one reality which is the occasion of ‘propitiation.’

(1) The Pauline use.-The Pauline use ( Romans 3:25) states the propitiation in relation to a Divine righteousness expressed in ‘a wrath of God revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold down the truth in unrighteousness’ ( Romans 1:18); its purpose is to show God’s righteousness to be consistent with the fact of His forbearance ‘in the passing over of sins done aforetime’: for there has never been a time under any dispensation when God has not dealt graciously with sinful men; He is always God the Saviour, ‘whose property is always to have mercy.’ But lest the persistent exercise of Divine grace in the forgiveness of sins should be considered as a challenge of God’s righteous opposition to sin, He set forth Christ Jesus a propitiation by His blood that He ‘might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus’ ( Romans 3:26). In this propitiation something is done by God in Christ which demonstrates the consistency and inviolability of His righteousness in the presence of His mercy. What that something is St. Paul does not further define; he simply asserts the efficiency of the propitiation for the ethical situation implied. His chosen word (ἱλαστήριον) has caused his commentators great trouble, but the great majority of all schools agree that the view here expressed is in substance St. Paul’s teaching. The opinion, formerly influentially supported (e.g. by Luther, Calvin, Ritschl, Cremer, Bruce), that ἱλαστήριον signifies ‘the mercy-seat,’ ‘the lid of the ark,’ as in  Hebrews 9:5, is now generally rejected as fanciful and inadequate (for reasons see Deissmann, Bibelstudien, Marburg, 1895, p. 121 f., Eng. tr._, Bible Studies, Edinburgh, 1901, p. 124 ff.; Stevens, Christian Doctrine of Salvation, p. 61). Its interpretation as ‘a propitiatory offering’-a means of rendering God consistently favourable towards sinful men and the means of reconciliation between God and man-is the most natural, and is indeed the only meaning suitable to the context of Romans 3; other Pauline passages harmonize with it better than with any other meaning (cf.  Romans 5:9,  1 Corinthians 6:20;  1 Corinthians 7:23,  Galatians 3:13;  Galatians 4:5).

It is evident that St. Paul regarded the propitiation as essential to the manifestation of the Divine nature in love and righteousness; it was not an arbitrary appointment dependent simply on God’s mere good pleasure; it implied a rational and ethical necessity in His being. Judging from the affinities of St. Paul’s thought generally, it is probable that he may have regarded propitiation less in the light of a Levitical sacrificial offering than in that of the prophetical ideal of vicarious suffering, or possibly even after the analogy of human sacrifice-one man dying for another (cf.  Romans 5:7; see Bruce, St. Paul’s Conception of Christianity, p. 167 ff.). St. Paul certainly held that the propitiation was provided by God; he expounded it as exhibiting the love rather than the wrath of God. Although such phrases as ‘propitiating God’ or God ‘being propitiated’ are foreign to apostolic teaching, the Pauline view relates the propitiation to God as recipient. The propitiation being thus provided by God and received by Him, the question has arisen, Does St. Paul teach that it is also offered by God-that is, that God propitiates Himself? Probably the best answer is that St. Paul constantly conceives of the propitiation as the work of God in Christ (cf.  2 Corinthians 5:18 f.); it is not something done outside God, but ‘God-in-Christ’ stands for St. Paul’s conception of God as Redeemer-that is, God united with human nature. It may, therefore, be the best approach to the sanctuary of the unfathomable mystery of God’s redeeming work to suggest that strictly He did not propitiate Himself. God requiring, providing, receiving the propitiation, it was offered by Christ, who was God-in-man, acting not as God, but as the Representative of man. God gave humanity in Christ the means of making propitiation (cf. H. Cremer, Bibl.-Theol. Lex.3, p. 91 ff.; HDB_ iv. 206). This suggestion is the more probable as it harmonizes with St. Paul’s great doctrine of the self-identification of Christ with the human race, and through Him of the race with God (cf. Romans 5, 6,  2 Corinthians 5:15 ff.).

(2) The Johannine use.-Although the Johannine writer uses for ‘propitiation’ a different Greek word (ἱλασμός, not ἱλαστήριον) there is no satisfactory ground for maintaining a meaning essentially different from that presented in the Pauline thought; characteristic words of a common religion cannot safely be applied in a different sense where it is obvious that the same great circle of ideas is acknowledged. Propitiation is part of an apostolic system of ideas of redemption, and is found in the writings of St. John associated with its correlatives of sin and righteousness, and with the blood of Christ as the means of putting away sin and establishing righteousness, ideas with which it is vitally associated in the Pauline Epistles (for the opposite view cf. Stevens, Christian Doctrine of Salvation, p. 108 ff.). The Johannine conception of propitiation is inseparably associated with ‘Jesus Christ the righteous,’ in whom ‘we have an Advocate with the Father’ ( 1 John 2:1), implying that the righteous nature of God involves a righteous order in the Divine method of dealing with sin. Moreover, the declaration is unmistakable that Christ is a propitiation ‘not for our sins only, but also for the whole world,’ implying an objective accomplishment, a finished work for the whole world as the basis on which the individual forgiveness and cleansing from sin proceed; for the virtue of the propitiation extends beyond the subjective experience of those who actually are made partakers of its grace. Whilst these points of contact with the Pauline view of propitiation appear, there are nevertheless lines of distinction in the use of the term which constitute a Johannine variety distinguishable from that found in the Pauline usage. For instance, the propitiation is more vividly personal: ‘He’ is our propitiation; the life of Christ as well as His death is involved-His Person as well as His work. Then its perpetual persistence as a process as well as its achievement as a fact is a dominant Johannine idea: ‘he is the propitiation,’ ‘his blood is cleansing us from all sin’ ( 1 John 1:7). It is more than a completed act; the propitiation abides as a living, present energy residing in the personality of Christ Himself (cf. J. McLeod Campbell, The Nature of the Atonement, London, 1895, p. 170 f.). Hence the Johannine emphasis falls naturally upon the issues of the propitiation set forth in terms of cleansing from sin rather than of justification in the sight of the Law. But the main Johannine distinction is probably found in the wealth of the Divine love, in which the writer makes explicit what is elsewhere implied in the teaching on propitiation, where it is associated more closely with the righteousness of the Law. Universally assumed in the apostolic teaching, the love of God in the propitiation suffuses the whole Johannine conception with radiant light. So far from being contrasts, love and propitiation become interchangeable realities-necessary to one another, explaining one another, even lost in one another. The writer defines love by propitiation, and propitiation by love: ‘in this have we come to know what love is, that he (ἐκεῖνος) for us (ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν) laid down his life’ ( 1 John 3:16). ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins’ (4:10). This is the writer’s closer definition of what he means by ‘God is love’; he can convey no idea of love in God beyond that which shows itself in propitiation; for that is love’s last word; the ultimate meaning of propitiation is love’s ultimate meaning too; contrast between them is unthinkable.

‘If the propitiatory death of Jesus is eliminated from the love of God, it might be unfair to say that the love of God is robbed of all meaning, but it is certainly robbed of its apostolic meaning’ (Denney, Death of Christ, p. 276).

(3) Use in Hebrews.-Propitiation in the Epistle to the Hebrews ( Hebrews 2:17, ‘to make propitiation for sins,’ τὸ ἱλάσκεσθαι) is interpreted in terms of sacrifice and comes nearest in apostolic teaching to the OT usage. Christ is the High Priest who offers Himself; He is at once Victim and Priest in a propitiation that procures forgiveness of sins and thereby the privilege of direct access to and communion with God. The writer noticeably departs from the classical construction of the verb, and adopts the biblical, making its object ‘the sins of the people’; he thus avoids making God the object of the propitiation, producing in doing so a construction strange at the same time to Greek ears and to pagan ideas. What relation this propitiation bears to the nature of God this loose construction is too vague to indicate; clearly, however, it deals in some sacrificial way with the sin that separates from God. The writer assumes that propitiation is necessary for this end, and the only propitiation known to him is that made by a priest through sacrifice; but the necessity for it lies in a Divine fitness rather than in any definite legal obligation; the Pauline idea of the law of righteousness is absent. If a Pauline philosophy of redemption lies behind the use in this Epistle of a term common to apostolic thought generally-as seems probable-the meaning would be that the propitiation Christ offered so dealt with sin that there no longer remained in the Divine mind an obstacle to sin’s forgiveness (cf. Holtzmann, Neutest. Theol.2, Tübingen, 1911, ii. 300, favouring this view, and Stevens, Christian Doctrine of Salvation, p. 84, criticizing it). The particular contribution, however, made by the writer of Hebrews to the apostolic teaching on propitiation is the discussion of the conception that the propitiation offered by Christ is capable of dealing with all and every kind of sin as a barrier between God and man, and not with sins of ignorance and infirmity alone; the key to the discussion is that Christ’s is a ‘better sacrifice,’ which perfects the imperfect, abolishes the typical, and lifts the whole significance of propitiation from the circle of legal and ceremonial ideas into the realm of abiding ethical and spiritual realities; Jesus, ‘who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God,’ thus becomes the author of eternal salvation-a salvation whose characteristic is finality; ‘through his own blood, (he) entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption’ (cf.  Hebrews 9:11-15).

The Fathers of the Apostolic and the sub-Apostolic Ages adhered in their interpretation of propitiation to the sacrificial language of the OT and to the usage of NT terms by the apostles (cf. Polycarp, ad Phil. i. 8; Clement of Rome, ad Cor. i. 7, 32).

Literature.-H. Schultz, OT Theology2, Edinburgh, 1895, ii. 87 ff.; D. W. Simon, The Redemption of  Prayer of Manasseh 1:2, London, 1906, p. 31 ff.; J. Denney, The Death of Christ, do., 1902; G. Smeaton, The Apostles’ Doctrine of Atonement, Edinburgh, 1870; J. J. Lias, The Atonement in the Light of Modern Difficulties, London, 1884; T. V. Tymms, The Christian Idea of the Atonement, do., 1904, pp. 191-251; F. R. M. Hitchcock, The Atonement and Modern Thought, do., 1911, p. 132 ff.; W. F. Lofthouse, Ethics and Atonement, do., 1906, p. 148 ff.; A. B. Bruce, St. Paul’s Conception of Christianity, Edinburgh, 1894, p. 167 ff.; G. B. Stevens, Christian Doctrine of Salvation, do., 1905, pp. 61 ff., 108 ff., NT Theology, London, 1899, pp. 412 ff., 589 f.; B. F. Westcott, Epistles of St. John 3, do., 1892, p. 85 f.; Sanday-Headlam, ICC_, ‘Romans’5, Edinburgh, 1902, p. 92 f.; H. Cremer, Bibl.-Theol. Lexicon3, do., 1880, p. 91 ff.; artt._ ‘Propitiation_’ in HDB_ and DCG_.

Frederic Platt.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [2]

To propitiate is to appease, to atone, to turn away the wrath of an offended person. In the case before us, the wrath turned away is the wrath of God; the person making the propitiation is Christ; the propitiating offering or sacrifice is his blood. All this is expressed in most explicit terms in the following passages: "And he is the propitiation for our sins,"  1 John 2:2 . "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,"  1 John 4:10 . "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood,"  Romans 3:25 . The word used in the two former passages is ιλασμος ; in the last ιλαστηριον . Both are from the verb ιλασκω , so often used by Greek writers to express the action of a person who, in some appointed way, turned away the wrath of a deity; and therefore cannot bear the sense which Socinus would put upon it,—the destruction of sin. This is not supported by a single example. With all Greek authorities, whether poets, historians, or others, the word means to propitiate, and is, for the most part, construed with an accusative case, designating the person whose displeasure is averted. As this could not be denied, Crellius comes to the aid of Socinus, and contends that the sense of this word was not to be taken from its common use in the Greek tongue, but from the Hellenistic use of it in the Greek of the New Testament, the LXX, and the Apocrypha. But this will not serve him; for both by the LXX, and in the Apocrypha, it is used in the same sense as in the Greek classic writers. "He shall offer his ιλασμον , sin-offering, saith the Lord God,"   Ezekiel 44:27 . "And the priest shall take the blood of the εξιλασμου , sin-offering,"   Ezekiel 45:19 . Κριος του ιλασμου , "The ram of the atonement,"  Numbers 5:8 . To which may be added, out of the Apocrypha, "Now as the high priest was making ιλασμον , an atonement," 2Ma_3:33 .

The propitiatory sense of the word ιμασμος being thus fixed, the modern Socinians have conceded, in their note on  1 John 2:2 , in their Improved Version, that it means the "pacifying of an offended party;" but they subjoin, that Christ is a propitiation, because by his Gospel he brings sinners to repentance, and thus averts the divine displeasure. The concession is important; and the comment cannot weaken it, because of its absurdity; for, in that interpretation of propitiation, Moses, or any of the Apostles, or any minister of the Gospel now, who succeeds in bringing sinners to repentance, is as truly a propitiation for sin as Christ himself. On  Romans 3:25 , however, the authors of the Improved Version continue to follow their master Socinus, and translate the passage, "whom God hath set forth a propitiation, through faith in his blood," "whom God hath set forth as a mercy seat in his own blood," and lay great stress upon this rendering, as removing that countenance to the doctrine of atonement by vicarious sufferings which the common translation affords. The word ιλαστηριον is used in the Septuagint version, and in the Epistle to the Hebrews, to express the mercy seat or covering of the ark. But so little is to be gained by taking it in this sense in this passage, that this rendering is adopted by several orthodox commentators as expressing, by a figure, or rather by emphatically supplying a type to the antitype,—the doctrine of our Lord's atonement. The mercy seat was so called, because, under the Old Testament, it was the place where the high priest, on the feast of expiation, sprinkled the blood of the sin-offerings, in order to make an atonement for himself and the whole congregation; and, since God accepted the offering which was then made, it was, for this reason, accounted the medium through which God showed himself propitious to the people. With reference to this, Jesus Christ may be called a mercy seat, as being the person in or through whom God shows himself propitious to mankind. And as, under the law, God was propitious to those who came to him by appearing before his mercy seat with the blood of their sin- offerings; so, under the Gospel dispensation, he is propitious to those who come unto him by Jesus Christ, through faith in that blood which is elsewhere called "the blood of sprinkling," and which he shed for the remission of sins. Some able critics have, however, argued, from the force of the context, that the word ought to be taken actively, and not merely declaratively; not as a "propitiatory," but as "a propitiation," which, says Grotius, is shown by the mention which is afterward made of blood, to which the power of propitiation is ascribed. Others supply θυμα or ιερειον , and render it expiatory sacrifice. But, whichever of these renderings be adopted, the same doctrine is held forth to us. The covering of the ark was rendered a propitiatory only by the blood of the victims sprinkled before and upon it; and when the Apostle says, that God hath set forth Jesus Christ to be a propitiatory, he immediately adds, having the ceremonies of the temple in his view, "through faith in his blood." The text, therefore, contains no exhibition of any means of obtaining mercy but through the blood of sacrifice, according to the rule laid down in the Epistle to the Hebrews, "Without shedding of blood there is no remission;" and is in strict accordance with   Ephesians 1:7 , "We have redemption through his blood, the remission of sins." It is only by his blood that Christ reconciles us to God.

Unable as they who deny the vicarious nature of the sufferings of Christ are to evade the testimony of the above passages which speak of our Lord as "a propitiation," their next resource often is to deny the existence of wrath in God, in the hope of proving that propitiation, in a proper sense, cannot be the doctrine of Scripture, whatever may be the force of the mere terms which the sacred writers employ. In order to give plausibility to their statement, they pervert the opinion of the orthodox, and argue as though it formed a part of the doctrine of Christ's propitiation and oblation for sin, to represent God as naturally an implacable and vengeful being, and only made placable and disposed to show mercy by satisfaction being made to his displeasure through our Lord's sufferings and death. This is as contrary to Scripture as it is to the opinions of all sober persons who hold the doctrine of Christ's atonement. God is love; but it is not necessary, in order to support this truth, to assume that he is nothing else. He has other attributes, which harmonize with this and with each other; though, assuredly, that harmony cannot be established by any who deny the propitiation for sin made by the death of Christ. It sufficiently proves that there is not only no implacability in God, but a most tender and placable affection toward the sinning human race itself, and that the Son of God, by whom the propitiation was made, was the free gift of the Father to us. This is the most eminent proof of his love, that, for our sakes, and that mercy might be extended to us, "He spared not his own Son; but delivered him up freely for us all." Thus he is the fountain and first moving cause of that scheme of recovery and salvation which the incarnation and death of our Lord brought into full and efficient operation. The true questions are, indeed, not whether God is love, or whether he is of a placable nature; but whether God is holy and just; whether we, his creatures, are under law or not; whether this law has any penalty, and whether God, in his rectoral character, is bound to execute and uphold that law. As the justice of God is punitive, (and if it is not punitive, his laws are a dead letter,) then is there wrath in God; then is God angry with the wicked; then is man, as a sinner, obnoxious to this anger; and so a propitiation becomes necessary to turn it away from him. Nor are these terms unscriptural; they are used in the New Testament as emphatically as in the Old; though, the former is, in a special sense, a revelation of the mercy of God to man. John declares that, if any man believeth not on the Son of God, "the wrath of God abideth upon him;" and St. Paul affirms, that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." The day of judgment is, with reference to the ungodly, said to be "the day of wrath;" God is called "a consuming fire;" and, as such, is the object of "reverence and godly fear." Nor is this his displeasure light, and the consequences of it a trifling and temporary inconvenience. When we only regard the consequences which have followed sin in society, from the earliest ages, and in every part of the world, and add to these the many direct and fearful inflictions of punishment which have proceeded from the "Judge of the whole earth," then, to use the language of Scripture, "our flesh may well tremble because of his judgments." But when we look at the future state of the wicked as represented in Scripture, though it is expressed generally, and surrounded with the mystery of a place, and a condition of being, unknown to us in the present state, all evils which history has crowded into the lot of man appear insignificant in comparison of banishment from God, separation from good men, public condemnation, torment, of spirit, "weeping, wailing, and gnashing, of teeth," "everlasting destruction," "everlasting fire." Let men talk ever so much or eloquently of the pure benevolence of God, they cannot abolish the facts recorded in the history of human suffering in this world as the effects of transgression; nor can they discharge these fearful comminations from the pages of the book of God. These cannot be criticised away; and if it is "Jesus who saves us from this wrath to come," that is, from those effects of the wrath of God which are to come, then, but for him, we should have been liable to them. That principle in God, from which such effects follow, the Scriptures call wrath; and they who deny the existence of wrath in God, deny, therefore, the Scriptures.

It by no means follows, however, that this wrath is a passion in God; or that, though we contend that the awful attribute of his justice requires satisfaction, in order to the forgiveness of the guilty, we afford reason to any to charge us with attributing vengeful affections to the divine Being. "Our adversaries," says Bishop Stillingfleet, "first make opinions for us, and then show that they are unreasonable. They first suppose that anger in God is to be considered as a passion, and that passion a desire of revenge; and then tell us, that if we do not prove that this desire of revenge can be satisfied by the sufferings of Christ, then we can never prove the doctrine of satisfaction to be true; whereas, we do not mean by God's anger, any such passion, but the just declaration of God's will to punish, upon our provocation of him by our sins; we do not make the design of the satisfaction to be that God may please himself in revenging the sins of the guilty upon the most innocent person, because we make the design of punishment not to be the satisfaction of anger as a desire of revenge, but to be the vindication of the honour and rights of the offended person by such a way as he himself shall judge satisfactory to the ends of his government."

See ATONEMENT and See Expiation .

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [3]

PROPITIATION . The idea of propitiation is borrowed from the sacrificial ritual of the OT, and the term is used in the EV [Note: English Version.] of the NT in three instances (  Romans 3:25 ,   1 John 2:2;   1 John 4:10 ) of Christ as offering the sacrifice for sin which renders God propitious, or merciful, to the sinner. In the first of these passages the word is strictly ‘propitiatory’ (answering to the OT ‘mercy-seat’), and RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] renders ‘whom God set forth to be propitiatory,’ without, however, essential change of meaning. In the two Johannine passages the noun is directly applied to Christ: ‘He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world’ (  1 John 2:2 ); ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins’ (  1 John 4:10 ). In one other passage.   Hebrews 2:17 , the RV [Note: Revised Version.] renders ‘to make propitiation for the sins of the people,’ instead of, as in AV [Note: Authorized Version.] , ‘to make reconciliation.’

1. In the OT . In the OT, to which we go back for explanation, the Heb. word kipper , which corresponds with ‘to make propitiation,’ is ordinarily rendered ‘to make atonement ,’ sometimes ‘to reconcile’ ( e.g.   Leviticus 6:30 AV [Note: Authorized Version.] , but in RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘to make atonement’); the word has primarily the sense ‘to cover,’ but in actual usage has the meaning of ‘to conciliate’ an offended party, or ‘to hide or expiate’ an offence. A person may be conciliated by a gift (  Genesis 32:20 ); may be made propitious by intercession (  Exodus 32:30 ); an offence may be atoned for by an act of zeal for righteousness (  Numbers 25:13 ). In ritual usage it is the priest who ‘makes atonement’ for the offender, as touching , or concerning , his sin (cf.   Leviticus 1:4;   Leviticus 4:35;   Leviticus 5:13;   Leviticus 5:18 etc.). Both ideas seem to be implied here; the offence is cancelled or annulled, hidden from God’s sight, and God is rendered propitious: His displeasure is turned away. The means by which this was effected under the Law was ordinarily sacrifice (burnt-offering, sin-offering, guilt-offering; the Idea was doubtless present in the peace-offering as well). The blood of an unblemished victim, obtained by slaughter, was sprinkled on the altar, or otherwise presented to Jehovah (cf.   Leviticus 1:1-17;   Leviticus 2:1-16;   Leviticus 3:1-17;   Leviticus 4:1-35;   Leviticus 5:1-19;   Leviticus 6:1-30;   Leviticus 7:1-38 , and see Atonement). On the annual Day of Atonement expiation of the sins of the people was effected by an elaborate ceremonial, which included the carrying of the blood into the Holy of Holies, and the sprinkling of it upon the mercy-seat (  Leviticus 16:1-34 ). The significance of these rites is considered in the artt. Atonement and Atonement [Day of].

2. In the NT . These analogies throw light upon the meaning of the term in the NT in its application to Christ, and further Illustration is found in St. Paul’s words in   Romans 3:25 . The Apostle, having shown that no one can attain to righteousness, or be justified before God, by works of law, proceeds to exhibit the Divine method of justification, without law, by ‘a righteousness of God’ obtained through faith in Jesus Christ. ‘Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, by his blood, to show his righteousness, because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God.’ The ideas in this passage include the following: (1) that Christ’s death is a propitiatory sacrifice; (2) that sin cannot be righteously passed over except on the ground of such a sacrifice; (3) that Christ’s propitiatory death is the vindication of God’s righteousness in passing over sins under the older dispensation (cf.   Hebrews 9:13 ); (4) that the virtue of Christ’s propitiation is appropriated by faith; (5) that everyone thus appropriating Christ’s propitiation, freely set forth, becomes possessed of ‘a righteousness of God’ which perfectly justifies him. It is seen, therefore, that Christ’s death is here regarded as having a true power to expiate guilt, redeem the sinner from condemnation, set him in righteous relations with God, and make him an object of God’s favour. It is not otherwise that Christ’s manifestation is conceived of by St. John, who in his Epistle emphasizes the cleansing power of Christ’s blood (  John 1:7 ), extols Christ as the propitiation for the sins of the world (  John 2:2 ), and declares that the love of God is seen in this, that He sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (  John 4:10; cf. ‘to take away sins,’   John 3:5 ).

This last passage raises the difficulty which will naturally be felt about ‘propitiation.’ Assuming, as can hardly be denied, that the term includes the idea of rendering God propitious, or favourable, how is this to he reconciled with the statement that the propitiation itself proceeds from, and is a demonstration of, the love of God? Can it be supposed that God, who Himself sends the Son, needs to be appeased, conciliated, or in any way made more gracious than He is, by His Son’s death? That idea, which belongs to the heathenish conception of propitiation, must certainly be excluded. Yet the paradox holds good that, while God loves the sinner, and earnestly seeks his salvation, there is a necessary reaction of the holiness of God against sin, manifesting itself in displeasure, withdrawal, judgment, wrath, which hinders the outflow of His friendship and favour to the world as He would desire it to flow forth. The sinner cannot take the initiative here; it must come from God Himself. Yet it must come in such a way as furnishes an adequate ground for the extension of His mercy. Christ’s work in our nature was one which entered into the deepest need of God’s own being, as well as into the imperatives of His just government of the world. In the Person of His own well-beloved Son a reconciliation was truly effected with humanity, which extends to all who receive the Son as Saviour and Lord. This is the reality in propitiation. See Atonement.

James Orr.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [4]

Very rarely does the word ‘propitiation’ appear in modern English. This is largely the reason why present-day versions of the English Bible prefer to use alternative expressions. In simple terms, to propitiate means to turn away a person’s anger by giving that person an offering.

The wrath of God

God is holy, and therefore he is always opposed to evil. The Bible describes this opposition to evil as the wrath or anger of God ( Deuteronomy 11:16-17;  John 3:36;  Ephesians 5:6). It is not an anger such as the bad temper that sinful people often display, but an anger that contains no trace of sin. It is the attitude of one who loves goodness and hates evil to such an extent that he cannot overlook wrongdoing. He cannot treat sin as if it does not matter ( 2 Kings 23:26;  Jeremiah 21:12;  Habakkuk 1:13;  Romans 1:18;  Romans 2:5;  Hebrews 1:9;  Revelation 14:8-11;  Revelation 19:1-2).

Mean and women, through sin, have cut themselves off from God and placed themselves under the wrath of God. They are unable to have fellowship with God, unable to please God and unable to bring themselves back to God ( Isaiah 59:2;  Romans 8:7-8;  Ephesians 2:3;  Colossians 1:21).

God always has an attitude of wrath against sin, and there is nothing sinners can to do to propitiate God (i.e. to pacify, appease, calm the anger of or win the favour of God). Pagans used to try to escape the wrath of their gods by offering sacrifices; that is, they tried to propitiate their gods. But sinners cannot act towards God like this. None of their efforts can quiet God’s wrath against sin or win his favour. (For similar ideas of making offerings to turn away wrath see  Exodus 32:30-32;  Proverbs 6:34-35;  Proverbs 16:14;  Isaiah 16:1-7;  Isaiah 47:11.)

The love and mercy of God

God’s opposition to sin is connected with his concern for people’s good. God is a God of love, and he reacts in holy and just anger against all that is wrong in his rebellious creatures. Sinful people justly deserve the punishment that God’s holy wrath requires, but God is patient with them and has no pleasure in punishing them ( Psalms 78:38;  Romans 2:2-4;  2 Peter 3:9). In fact, he provides a way whereby they need not suffer the punishment themselves.

This was demonstrated in the sacrificial system that God gave to Israel. Sinners were in a hopeless position where there was nothing they could do to escape God’s wrath. Yet God in his love provided a way of dealing with sin, so that the punishment on sin could be carried out, while at the same time sinners could be forgiven.

God allowed repentant sinners to kill an animal, so that the animal suffered the penalty that they, because of their sin, should have suffered. Pardon was not something that sinners had to squeeze from an unwilling God, but was the merciful gift of a God who wanted to forgive. God’s anger was turned away (i.e. God was propitiated) not by the efforts of people to please him but solely by his own gracious gift. God provided the propitiation ( Leviticus 17:11; see Blood ; Sacrifice ).

The sacrifice was not the sinner’s gift (in the sense of a bribe) to win God’s favour, but God’s provision to bear the divine judgment on sin. God’s act of forgiveness, being based on love, involved his dealing with sin. God’s wrath and God’s love, far from being in conflict with each other, operated in harmony ( Isaiah 53:4-5;  Isaiah 53:10-11;  Isaiah 54:8;  Micah 7:18;  John 3:16-21;  John 3:36;  Romans 6:23).

The sacrifice of Christ

Sacrifices belonging to the Old Testament system had real meaning for genuinely repentant sinners. The sacrifices enables people to see that God was acting justly in dealing with their sins, and gave them a way of expressing their faith in God’s forgiving love ( Hebrews 9:22). But the blood of animals could not take away sins ( Hebrews 10:4). Only the blood of Jesus Christ – his death on the cross – can do that. In view of Christ’s death, God was able to ‘pass over’, temporarily, the sins of Old Testament believers. God forgave them on credit, so to speak, for their sin was not actually removed till Christ died ( Romans 3:25-26).

It becomes clear, now that the climax of God’s plan of salvation has been reached through Christ, that the only thing that propitiates God is the death of Christ. Again, God provides the way. He himself becomes the sacrifice that secures the propitiation. A loving God willingly pays the penalty on behalf of those under his judgment ( 2 Corinthians 5:19;  1 John 4:10). God’s holy wrath against sin has been satisfied by Christ’s death, and therefore he can show mercy on the believing sinner. He can forgive the sinner, yet still be just in doing so ( Romans 3:25-26;  Hebrews 2:17;  1 John 2:2).

Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words [5]

A — 1: Ἱλάσκομαι (Strong'S #2433 — Verb — hilaskomai — hil-as'-kom-ahee )

was used amongst the Greeks with the significance "to make the gods propitious, to appease, propitiate," inasmuch as their good will was not conceived as their natural attitude, but something to be earned first. This use of the word is foreign to the Greek Bible, with respect to God, whether in the Sept. or in the NT. It is never used of any act whereby man brings God into a favorable attude or gracious disposition. It is God who is "propitiated" by the vindication of His holy and righteous character, whereby, through the provision He has made in the vicarious and expiatory sacrifice of Christ, He has so dealt with sin that He can show mercy to the believing sinner in the removal of his guilt and the remission of his sins.

 Luke 18:13  Hebrews 2:17 Leviticus 1:4 14:20 16:24 Leviticus 5:16,18 Leviticus 4:20,26,31,35 Leviticus 5:10 9:7 Ezekiel 45:15,17 Exodus 29:33 Leviticus 17:11

B — 1: Ἱλαστήριον (Strong'S #2435 — Noun Neuter — hilasterion — hil-as-tay'-ree-on )

akin to A, is regarded as the neuter of an adjective signifying "propitiatory." In the Sept. it is used adjectivelly in connection with epithema, "a cover," in  Exodus 25:17;  37:6 , of the lid of the ark (see Mercy Seat ) but it is used as a noun (without epithema), of locality, in  Exodus 25:18-22;  31:7;  35:12;  37:7,8,9;  Leviticus 16:2,13-15;  Numbers 7:89 , and this is its use in  Hebrews 9:5 .

 Romans 3:25 Leviticus 17:11 Hebrews 9:22

B — 2: Ἱλασμός (Strong'S #2434 — Noun Masculine — hilasmos — hil-as-mos' )

akin to hileos ("merciful, propitious"), signifies "an expiation, a means whereby sin is covered and remitted." It is used in the NT of Christ Himself as "the propitiation," in  1—John 2:2;  4:10 , signifying that He Himself, through the expiatory sacrifice of His Death, is the Personal means by whom God shows mercy to the sinner who believes on Christ as the One thus provided. In the former passage He is described as "the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world." The italicized addition in the AV, "the sins of," gives a wrong interpretation. What is indicated is that provision is made for the whole world, so that no one is, by Divine predetermination, excluded from the scope of God's mercy; the efficacy of the "propitiation," however, is made actual for those who believe. In  1—John 4:10 , the fact that God "sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins," is shown to be the great expression of God's love toward man, and the reason why Christians should love one another. In the Sept.,  Leviticus 25:9;  Numbers 5:8;  1—Chronicles 28:20;  Psalm 130:4;  Ezekiel 44:27;  Amos 8:14 .

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [6]

We meet with this word but twice in the Bible, namely,  Romans 3:25; and  1 John 2:2; but it is most blessed and precious in both. The Septuagint render it IIasmos; and the propitiatory, or mercy-seat, they call Ilasterion. The plain and evident sense of propitiation is, that of conciliating favour and reconciling persons which before were at variance. To propitiate, therefore, is to restore that amity and friendship which had subsisted before the quarrel took place, and thus make friends again. Such, in a very high degree, is the propitiation accomplished by Christ Jesus for his people; and hence, by way of special emphasis, Christ is himself called the propitiation. For when sin had made a dreadful breach between God and man, Christ stood forth the propitiation, and made "peace by the blood of his cross?" This doctrine was beautifully shadowed forth in the Old Testament, and accomplished under the New. (See  Exodus 25:17-27)

As the subject itself is of all others the most late resting, and the just and proper apprehension of it highly important, I persuade myself that I shall have the reader's indulgence if I enter into the consideration of it a little more fully.

The two great features in the doctrine of propitiation, are the greatness of the act itself by the Lord Jesus Christ, and the authority and approbation of God the Father in the appointment. And Scripture is express in explaining both; for speaking of Christ as a propitiation, the apostle saith, that "having made peace by the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things to himself; by him, I say, (saith the apostle) whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven." ( Colossians 1:20) The apostle lays the greatest stress upon the personal glory of Christ in this act, and repeats his expression by him, I say, as if to shew, and which is indeed the chief glory of it, how much depended upon the infinite dignity of Christ's person, and the infinite merit of his work. And no less to shew the momentous consequence that the hand of JEHOVAH should also be found to concur in this great design, the same apostle was commissioned to tell the church that it was God "which set him forth as a propitiation, through faith in his blood." ( Romans 3:25) Yea, so much was the heart of JEHOVAH in every part of this gracious undertaking, "that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." ( 2 Corinthians 5:19) Oh, precious consideration of a precious God in Christ!

Reader, what saith your experience of these things? What views have you of Christ, the propitiation with the Father, and set forth by the Father? Are you daily, hourly, looking to this for the only acceptation of your person and your offering? Depend upon it, it is to this propitiation of his dear Son alone that God hath respect. The very sight of Christ, the lamb slain, in the midst of the throne, becomes the cause of God the Father being propitious to the sinner. To Jesus, as to the rainbow round the throne, JEHOVAH looks, and remembers his everlasting covenant. And what a sweet thought! Jesus not only thus appears in the presence of God for us, but his blood pleads for us too. It is indeed a speaking blood, for it speaks to God of Jesus's preciousness, and it speaks from God of the Father's faithfulness; and by both to confirm the blood of the covenant. Jesus I my full, my glorious, my complete, and all-sufficient Saviour! be thou my daily object of unceasing delight, my mercy-seat, propitiation, high priest, altar, sacrifice, and sacrificer; yea, my all in all: I need no more in time, and to all eternity! See Mercy-Seat.

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [7]

A sacrifice offered to God to assuage his wrath, and render him propitious. Among the Jews, there were both ordinary and public sacrifices, as holocausts, &c. offered by way of thanksgiving; and extraordinary ones, offered by persons guilty of any crime, by way of propitiation. The Romish church believe the mass to be a sacrifice of propitiation for the living and the dead. The reformed churches allow of no propitiation, but that one offered by Jesus on the cross, whereby divine justice is appeased, and our sins forgiven,  Romans 3:25 .  1 John 2:2 . As it respects the unbloody propitiatory sacrifice of the mass above-mentioned, little need be said to confute such a doctrine. Indeed, it is owned in the church of Rome, that there is no other foundation for the belief of it than an unwritten tradition. There is no hint in the Scripture of Christ's offering his body and blood to his Father at his institution of the eucharist. It is also a manifest contradiction to St. Paul's doctrine, who teaches, that, without shedding of blood, there is no remission; therefore there can be no remission of sins in the mass.

The sacrifice of Christ, according to the same apostle, is not to be repeated. A second oblation would be superfluous; consequently the pretended true and proper sacrifice of the mass must be superfluous and useless. That propitiation made by Jesus Christ is that which atones for and covers our guilt, as the mercy-seat did the tables of the law; or it may be defined thus: "It is the averting the punishment due to any one, by undergoing the penalty in the room of the guilty." Thus Jesus Christ is called the propitiation or atonement, as his complete righteousness appeases his Father, and satisfies his law and justice for all our transgressions.

See ATONEMENT, and books under that article.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [8]

In  Romans 3:25 and   Hebrews 9:5 (A.V., "mercy-seat") the Greek word Hilasterion Is used. It is the word employed by the LXX. translators in   Exodus 25:17 and elsewhere as the equivalent for the Hebrew Kapporeth , Which means "covering," and is used of the lid of the ark of the covenant (  Exodus 25:21;  30:6 ). This Greek word (hilasterion) came to denote not only the mercy-seat or lid of the ark, but also propitation or reconciliation by blood. On the great day of atonement the high priest carried the blood of the sacrifice he offered for all the people within the veil and sprinkled with it the "mercy-seat," and so made propitiation.

In  1 John 2:2;  4:10 , Christ is called the "propitiation for our sins." Here a different Greek word is used (hilasmos). Christ is "the propitiation," because by his becoming our substitute and assuming our obligations he expiated our guilt, covered it, by the vicarious punishment which he endured. (Compare  Hebrews 2:17 , where the expression "make reconciliation" of the A.V. is more correctly in the RSV "make propitiation.")

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [9]

 Romans 3:25, Hilastrion , "the propitiatory" or mercy seat, the bloodsprinkled lid of the ark, the meeting place between God and His people represented by the priest ( 1 John 2:2;  1 John 4:10). Ηιlasmos , abstract for concrete noun. He is all that is needed for propitiation in behalf of our sins, the propitiatory sacrifice provided by the Father's love removing the estrangement, appearing God's righteous wrath against the sinner. A father may be offended with a son, yet all the while love him. It answers in Septuagint to Hebrew Kaphar , Kippurim to effect an atonement or reconciliation with God ( Numbers 5:8;  Hebrews 2:17), "to make reconciliation for ... sins," literally, to expiate the sins, Eeilaskesteeai .  Psalms 32:1, "blessed is he whose sin is covered." (See Atonement ; Reconciliation

Morrish Bible Dictionary [10]

The word ἱλασμός is from the verb 'to be propitious.' Propitiation represents in scripture that aspect of the death of Christ in which has been vindicated the holy and righteous character of God, and in virtue of which He is enabled to be propitious, or merciful, to the whole world.  1 John 2:2;  1 John 4:10 . A kindred word (the verb) occurs in  Hebrews 2:17 , where, instead of 'to make reconciliation,' should be read "to make 'propitiation' for the sins of the people." In  Romans 3:25 , 'propitiation' (ἱλαστήριον) should be 'mercy seat,' as the same word is, and must be, translated in  Hebrews 9:5 . See ATONEMENT.

People's Dictionary of the Bible [11]

Propitiation. A reconciliation. Thus, Christ is the "propitiation for our sins."  Romans 3:25;  1 John 2:2;  1 John 4:10. He reconciles us to God, not God to us. The same Greek word is used by the Septuagint to denote "sin-offering,"  Ezekiel 44:27;  Ezekiel 45:19; "atonement,"  Numbers 6:8; the "mercy-seat,"  Hebrews 9:5; and the covering of the ark of the covenant  Leviticus 16:14.

King James Dictionary [12]

PROPITIATION, n. propisia'shon.

1. The act of appeasing wrath and conciliating the favor of an offended person the act of making propitious. 2. In theology, the atonement or atoning sacrifice offered to God to assuage his wrath and render him propitious to sinners. Christ is the propitiation for the sins of men.  Romans 3;  1 John 2 .

Webster's Dictionary [13]

(1): ( n.) The act of appeasing the wrath and conciliating the favor of an offended person; the act of making propitious.

(2): ( n.) That which propitiates; atonement or atoning sacrifice; specifically, the influence or effects of the death of Christ in appeasing the divine justice, and conciliating the divine favor.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [14]

See Atonement

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [15]

The Greek word Ἱλαστήριον (or Ἱλασμός ), rendered Propitiation ( Romans 3:25;  1 John 2:2;  1 John 4:10) and Mercy Seat ( Hebrews 9:5), is used in the Septuagint as the translation of the Hebrew word כִּפֹּרַת , i.e. Covering, properly the Lid or Cover of the ark of the covenant in the most holy place, which was overlaid with pure gold, over which the cherubim stretched out their wings, and where Jehovah communed with the representatives of his people ( Exodus 25:17-22; Exodus 37; in the Sept.  Exodus 38:6-9). Into the holy place the high-priest entered but once a year, when he sprinkled upon the mercy seat or Covering of the ark the blood of an expiatory victim, in order to make propitiation for the sins of the people ( Leviticus 16:11-15). In the common Greek idiom, Ἱλαστήριον properly designates an Expiatory or Propitiatory Victim, (See Propitiatory Sacrifices); and in  Romans 3:25;  1 John 2:2;  1 John 4:10, Christ is represented as the propitiatory sacrifice for the sin of the world. His blood alone atones for and covers our guilt. When faith is exercised in the blood of this sacrifice, its propitiatory effect is produced. In other words, Christ makes expiation which is effectual for such, and only such, as trust or put confidence in his atoning blood.

The idea of the legal reconciliation of God and all sinners who cordially receive the Gospel plan of salvation is presented under two aspects. 1. Expiation: this denotes the doing of something which shall furnish a just ground or reason in a judicial administration for pardoning a convicted offender. 2. Propitiation: anything which shall have the property of disposing, inclining, or causing the judicial authority to admit the expiation i.e. to assent to it as a valid reason for pardoning the offender. Expiation, therefore, regards the condition of the offender; propitiation, that of the judge or sovereign. "We can conceive cases," says Dr. J. Pye Smith, "in which an expiation, good and reasonable in its kind, might be offered, and yet a wise and good government might not be willing to accept it i.e. might not be propitious to the offender and to the proposal for his being forgiven. We call also conceive of a wise and good government being cordially disposed and greatly desirous to pardon an offender, but unable to gratify this gracious disposition because it can find no just grounds for such an act, and it is aware that a pardon arbitrary and destitute of unexceptionable reason would relax the obligations of law, bring dishonor upon public justice, and prove of pernicious example. It is also obvious that the same thing may be, and is most naturally fit and likely to be, both an expiation and a propitiation i.e. both a valid reason for pardoning, and a determining motive to the will of the competent authority to admit and act upon that reason." (See Atonement).

Now, in applying these terms to the great and awful case of ourselves, the whole world of justly condemned sinners, and our judge, the infinitely perfect God, there are some cautions of great importance to be observed. Nothing can be admitted that would contradict incontrovertible first principles. But there are two such principles which are often violated by inconsiderate advocates of the doctrine of salvation by the mediation of Christ; and the violation of them has afforded the advantage of all the plausible arguments urged against that doctrine by its adversaries. The first is the immutability of God. His moral principles that is, his rectitude, wisdom, and goodness, as expressed by his blessed and holy will can undergo no alteration; for to admit such a supposition would be destructive of the absolute perfection of the divine nature, as it would imply either an improvement or a deterioration in the subject of the supposed change. We cannot, therefore, hear or read without unspeakable disapprobation and regret representations of the Deity as first actuated by the passions of wrath and fury towards sinful men, and as afterwards turned, by the presentation of the Saviour's sacrifice, into a different temper-a disposition of calmness, kindness, and grace. The second foundation principle is that the adorable God is, from eternity and in all the glorious constancy of his nature, gracious and merciful. He wants no extraneous motive to induce him to pity and relieve our miserable world. No change in God is necessary or desirable, even if it were possible. This is abundantly evident from many parts of the divine Word ( Exodus 34:6-7;  John 3:16;  John 6:39;  John 10:17;  Ephesians 1:3-10;  2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

The question whether sinners shall be pardoned is not one that can be referred to arbitrary will or absolute power. It is a question of law and government, and it is to be solved by the dictates of wisdom, goodness, justice, and consistency. God's disposition to show mercy is original and unchangeable: in this sense nothing is needed to render him propitious. But the way and manner in which it will be suitable to all the other considerations proper to be taken into the account that he should show mercy, none but himself is qualified to determine. "God is the righteous judge, and God is angry [with the wicked] every day." But this anger is not a commotion or a mutable passion: it is the calm, dignified, unchangeable, and eternal majesty of the judge; it is his necessary love of righteousness and hatred of iniquity. Pardon, when on any consideration it takes place, brings the true and just idea of a change; but that change, in the great case before us, is not in the mind or character of the Supreme Ruler, but it is in the administration of his government, and in those outward acts by which that administration is indicated. This change is, in the order of moral right, the effect of an adequate cause. This cause lies in the whole mediatorial work of Christ, but most particularly and essentially in his sufferings and death, and these have constituted the expiation. (See Day Of Mediation Atonement).

The Romish Church believes the mass (q.v.) to be a sacrifice of propitiation for the living and dead; while the Reformed churches, justified by the express declarations of Scripture, allow of no propitiation but that one offered by Jesus on the cross, whereby divine justice is appeased and our sins atoned for ( Romans 3:20;  1 John 2:2). (See Sacrifice).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [16]

pro - pish - i - ā´shun  :

1. Terms and Meaning:

The word is Latin and brings into its English use the atmosphere of heathen rites for winning the favor, or averting the anger, of the gods. In the Old Testament it represents a number of Hebrew words - ten, including derivatives - which are sufficiently discussed under Atonement (which see), of which propitiation is one aspect. It represents in Septuagint the Greek stems ἰλασκ -, hilask - ( ἱλε -, hile -), and καταλλαγ -, katallag -, with derivatives; in the New Testament only the latter, and is rarely used. Propitiation needs to be studied in connection with reconciliation, which is used frequently in some of the most strategic sentences of the New Testament, especially in the newer versions In   Hebrews 2:17 , the English Revised Version and the American Standard Revised Version have both changed "reconciliation" of the King James Version to "propitiation," to make it correspond with the Old Testament use in connection with the sacrifice on the Day Of Atonement (which see).  Luke 18:13 ("God, be thou merciful (margin "be propitiated") to me the sinner" (the American Standard Revised Version margin));   Hebrews 8:12 (quoted from the Septuagint); and   Matthew 16:22 (an idiomatic asseveration like English "mercy on us") will help in getting at the usage in the New Testament. In Septuagint hilastḗrion is the term for the "mercy-seat" or "lid of the ark" of the covenant which was sprinkled with blood on the Day of Atonement. It is employed in exactly this sense in  Hebrews 9:5 , where later versions have in the margin "the propitiatory."

Elsewhere in the New Testament this form is found only in  Romans 3:25 , and it is here that difficulty and difference are found extensively in interpreting. Greek fathers generally and prominent modern scholars understand Paul here to say that God appointed Christ Jesus to be the "mercy-seat" for sinners. The reference, while primarily to the Jewish ceremonial in tabernacle and temple, would not depend upon this reference for its comprehension, for the idea was general in religious thought, that some place and means had to be provided for securing friendly meeting with the Deity, offended by man's sin. In Hebrews particularly, as elsewhere generally, Jesus Christ is presented as priest and sacrifice. Many modern writers (compare Sanday and Headlam), therefore, object that to make Him the "mercy-seat" here complicates the figure still further, and so would understand hilastērion as "expiatory sacrifice." While this is not impossible, it is better to take the word in the usual sense of "mercy-seat." It is not necessary to complicate the illustration by bringing in the idea of priest at all here, since Paul does not do so; mercy-seat and sacrifice are both in Christ. ἱλασμός , hilasmós , is found in the New Testament only in  1 John 2:2;  1 John 4:10 . Here the idea is active grace, or mercy, or friendliness. The teaching corresponds exactly with that in Romans. "Jesus Christ the righteous" is our "Advocate (margin "Helper") with the Father," because He is active mercy concerning (περί , perı́ ) our sins and those of the whole world. Or ( Romans 4:10 ), God "loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for (active mercy concerning) our sins." This last passage is parallel with  Romans 3:25 , the one dealing with the abstract theory, and so Christ is set forward as a "mercy-seat," the other dealing with experience of grace, and so Christ is the mercy of God in concrete expression.

2. Theological Implication:

The basal idea in Hebrew terms is that of covering what is offensive, so restoring friendship, or causing to be kindly disposed. The Greek terms lack the physical reference to covering but introduce the idea of friendliness where antagonism would be natural; hence, graciousness. Naturally, therefore, the idea of expiation entered into the concept. It is especially to be noted that all provisions for this friendly relation as between God and offending man find their initiation and provision in God and are under His direction, but involve the active response of man. All heathen and unworthy conceptions are removed from the Christian notion of propitiation by the fact that God Himself proposed, or "set forth," Christ as the "mercy-seat," and that this is the supreme expression of ultimate love. God had all the while been merciful, friendly, "passing over" man's sins with no apparently adequate, or just, ground for doing so. Now in the blood of Christ sin is condemned and expiated, and God is able to establish and maintain His character for righteousness, while He continues and extends His dealing in gracious love with sinners who exercise faith in Jesus. The propitiation originates with God, not to appease Himself, but to justify Himself in His uniform kindness to men deserving harshness. Compare also as to reconciliation, as in  Romans 5:1-11;  2 Corinthians 5:18 ff. See also Johannine Theology , V., 2.


Besides the comms., the literature is the same as for Atonement , to recent works on which add Stalker, The Atonement  ; Workman, At Onement, or Reconciliation with God  ; Moberly, in Foundations, Christian Belief in Terms of Modern Thought .