Atoning sacrifice/propitiation 1 John 4:10

I go to several places on Thurs. nites…i often find myself at the Baptist Student Union or at a bible study that the Youmans put on at their home…John M. and Caleb M. (among others) got into a good discussion about the wrath of God and the mercy of God existing at the same time as He judges sinners and saves them from sin as well. Read 1 John 4:10 and maybe look at both the NIV and the ESV versions of scripture and see the different words used….then read the following below…if you were at the bible study this will be especially interesting when you get to the end of the 3rd paragraph…this info is found at

Propitiation is translated from the Greek hilastērion ([Strong’s #2435]), meaning “that which expiates or propitiates” or “the gift which procures propitiation”. The word is also used in the New Testament for the place of propitiation, the “mercy seat,” Hebrews 9:5. There is frequent similar use of hilastērion in the Septuagint, Exodus 25:18 ff. The mercy seat was sprinkled with atoning blood on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:14), representing that the righteous sentence of the Law had been executed, changing a judgment seat into a mercy seat, Hebrews 9:11-15; compare with “throne of grace” in Hebrews 4:14-16; place of communion, Exodus 25:21-22.

The related Greek word, hilasmos, is used for Christ as our propitiation, 1 John 2:2; 4:10, and for “atonement” in the Septuagint (Leviticus 25:9). The thought in the Old Testament sacrifices and in the New Testament fulfillment is that Christ completely satisfied the just demands of a holy God for judgment on sin by His death on the Cross.

God, in view of the Cross, is declared righteous in forgiving sins in the Old Testament period as well as in justifying sinners under the New Covenant (Romans 3:25,26; cf. Exodus 29:33). Propitiation is not the placating of a vengeful God but, rather, it is the satisfying the righteousness of a holy God, thereby making it possible for Him to show mercy without compromising His righteousness or justice.

The Hebrew word kâphar ([Strong’s #3722]) means “to propitiate, to atone for sin.” According to Scripture, the sacrifice of the Law only covered the offeror’s sin and secured divine forgiveness. The Old Testament sacrifices never removed man’s sin. “It is not possible . . .”, Hebrews 10:4. The Israelite’s offering implied confession of sin in anticipation of Christ’s sacrifice which did, finally, “put away” the sins “done previously in the forbearance of God”, Romans 3:25; Heb. 9:15,26.
[edit] Propitiation versus Expiation

The Greek word hilasterion is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew kapporeth which refers to the Mercy Seat of the Ark. Hilasterion can be translated as either propitiation or expiation which then imply different functions of the Mercy Seat. Propitiation literally means to make favorable and specifically includes the idea of dealing with God’s wrath against sinners. Expiation literally means to make pious and implies either the removal or cleansing of sin.

The idea of propitiation includes that of expiation as its means; but the word “expiation” has no reference to quenching God’s righteous anger. The difference is that the object of expiation is sin, not God. One propitiates a person, and one expiates a problem. Christ’s death was therefore both an expiation and a propitiation. By expiating (removing the problem of) sin God was made propitious (favorable) to us.

The case for translating hilasterion as “expiation” was put forward by C. H. Dodd in 1935 and at first gained wide support. As a result hilasterion has been translated as ‘expiation’ in the RSV and other modern versions. But a generation of debate has shown that the linguistic evidence seems to favor “propitiation” (cf. Matthew Black, Romans, New Century Bible, Oliphants, London,1973, p. 68, and also David Hill, Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings, Cambridge University Press, 1967, pp. 23-48).

Theologians stress the idea of propitiation because it specifically addresses the aspect of the atonement dealing with God’s wrath. Critics state that seeing the atonement as appeasing God is a pagan idea that makes God seem tyrannical. In response to this theologians have traditionally stressed that propitiation should not be understood as appeasing or mollifying God in the sense of a bribe or of it making an angry God love us because it is God who – both in the Old and New Testaments – provides the propitiation. “I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls” (Lev 17:11). God out of his love and justice renders Himself favorable by his own action.

On this point proponents of penal substitution are virtually unanimous. John Stott writes that propitiation “does not make God gracious…God does not love us because Christ died for us, Christ died for us because God loves us” (The Cross of Christ p.174) Calvin writes “Our being reconciled by the death of Christ must not be understood as if the Son reconciled us, in order that the Father, then hating, might begin to love us”. (Institutes II 16:4)
[edit] Relevant passages

* Romans 3:25
* Hebrews 2:17
* 1 John 2:2
* 1 John 4:10