1999 James A. Fowler
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EXPIATION / PROPITIATION
I. Representative Biblical references
A. Old Testament
- "no expiation can be made for the land" (Heb.
(Septuagint) uses the Greek hilasmos word group to translate
the Hebrew kopher/kippur word
group over 100 times.
B. New Testament
words hilaskomai, hilasmos, hilasterion
from roots of hilaros - cheerful (cf. Rom. 12:8; II Cor.
9:7), and hileos - kindly, merciful,
meaning: to appease, to satisfy, to propitiate, to expiate
If personally satisfied, likely to be cheerful; if dissatisfied,
not likely to be cheerful, kindly
referring to the atoning work of Jesus Christ
3:25 - "God displayed (Jesus Christ) publicly as a propitiation
in His blood through
faith" (RSV - "expiation")
2:17 - "a merciful and faithful high priest...to make propitiation
for the sins of the people"
(RSV - "expiation")
Jn. 2:2 - "He Himself is the propitiation for our
sins...for those of the whole world" (RSV
Jn. 4:10 - "He (God) loved us and sent His Son to be the
propitiation for our sins"
II. Developing a Biblical understanding of "expiation"
A. Hebrew background of redemption
and atonement is important for understanding concept of "expiation"
B. The Greek word-group allows for a
latitude of meaning.
C. Theological debate whether English
word "expiation" or "propitiation" best translates
from Latin ex=from; piare=to make amends
meaning: "to make amends, to atone"
from Latin pro=towards; petere=to seek
meaning: to appease, to cause to be favorably disposed towards
Dodd (British theologian - 1884-1973) repudiated the use of "propitiation"
on the grounds
that it implied a pagan concept of appeasing, placating and pacifying
an offended, angry
and vindictive god who could be bought-off, bribed and satisfied
with the meritorious payment
or performance of the offender (or his representative), in order
to be favorably disposed,
merciful and conciliatory toward them.
correct in rejecting such an idea in reference to God
the question is whether "propitiation" necessarily
implies such an idea, or can convey a more
positive idea of favorable disposition based on adequate and
satisfactory removal of
the cause of displeasure, wrath, alienation and estrangement,
particularly as initiated by God
Himself at the expense of His own Son as the vicarious and substitutionary
3. Leon Morris
is perhaps the foremost proponent of using "propitiation"
as the primary meaning.
God of the Bible is not a Being who can be propitiated after
the fashion of a pagan deity.
...the Bible writers have nothing to do with pagan conceptions
of a capricious and vindictive
deity, inflicting arbitrary punishments on offending worshippers,
who must then bribe
him back to a good mood by the appropriate offerings." The
Apostolic Preaching of the
Cross, pg. 129.
III. Differentiating the concepts of "expiation"
A sacrifice that satisfies the legal
requirements of God
Satisfies the just consequence of death
for sin (justice)
Legal, judicial, penal, mechanical
Focuses on remedial, restitutional action of God
Death of Christ makes amends for objective guilt
of man's transgression of the Law
Correlates closely with ritual-sacrifice
concept of redemption and atonement
Looks back at "redemption"
Overemphasis makes God's justice impersonal
A sacrifice that satisfies what God's character
Satisfies the just offense and wrath
of God toward the violation of His
character of holiness
Focuses on restorative result of God's
action in Christ
Death of Christ removes the disfavor of God
toward men because of sin
Correlates closely with relational- emancipation
concept of redemption
Looks forward to "reconciliation"
Overemphasis anthropmorphizes God's personal
IV. Biblical balance of "expiation" and "propitiation"
A. These are two important concepts
that provide the transition between redemption and reconciliation.
B. They should not be separated or divorced
into an either/or exclusivism, but be balanced in a both/and
C. Proponents of exclusivistic extremes
both cast their concepts in epistemological contexts that
to adequately recognize the ontological reality of Christ's life
D. Exclusivists must beware of misrepresenting
the character of God.
only: God is not to be identified only with legal justice of
retribution, restitution and
only: God is not to be identified with inadequate anthropomorphic
of His character.
Wrath of God is not irrational, selfish passion of personal pique
and malicious vindictiveness.
It is the settled unacceptance and intolerance of evil that is
contrary to the character
Love of God is not concessionary, conciliatory sentimentality
leading to mushy mercy.
E. Liberal and conservative theological
theology tended toward "expiation" exclusivism (cf.
theology tended toward "propitiation" exclusivism.
ironic since conservative theology has traditionally cast redemption
in legal, forensic
categories (cf. "justification), and liberal theology has
emphasized personal, social categories.
4. On the
other hand, conservative theology wanted to preserve concept
of "personal relationship"
with God, rather than ritual, intellectual concepts more prevalent
in liberal theology.
F. Need to maintain balanced Christocentric
Christ is the expiatory sacrifice
Christ is the propitiatory satisfaction