© 1999 James A. Fowler

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I. Representative Biblical references

    A. Old Testament
         Numb. 35:33 - "no expiation can be made for the land" (Heb. kaphar)
         LXX (Septuagint) uses the Greek hilasmos word group to translate the Hebrew kopher/kippur               word group over 100 times.
    B. New Testament
         1. Greek words hilaskomai, hilasmos, hilasterion
              a. from roots of hilaros - cheerful (cf. Rom. 12:8; II Cor. 9:7), and hileos - kindly,                   merciful, gracious
              b. meaning: to appease, to satisfy, to propitiate, to expiate
              c. If personally satisfied, likely to be cheerful; if dissatisfied, not likely to be cheerful,                    kindly and merciful
         2. Usages referring to the atoning work of Jesus Christ
              Romans 3:25 - "God displayed (Jesus Christ) publicly as a propitiation in His blood                   through faith" (RSV - "expiation")
              Heb. 2:17 - "a merciful and faithful high priest...to make propitiation for the sins of the                   people" (RSV - "expiation")
              I Jn. 2:2 - "He Himself is the propitiation for our sins...for those of the whole world"                   (RSV - "expiation")
              I Jn. 4:10 - "He (God) loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins"
                  (RSV - "expiation")

II. Developing a Biblical understanding of "expiation" and "propitiation".

    A. Hebrew background of redemption and atonement is important for understanding concept of           "expiation" and "propitiation"
    B. The Greek word-group allows for a latitude of meaning.
    C. Theological debate whether English word "expiation" or "propitiation" best translates the
          Greek words
         1. English words
              a. "Expiation"
                  (1) from Latin ex=from; piare=to make amends
                  (2) meaning: "to make amends, to atone"
              b. "Propitiation"
                  (1) from Latin pro=towards; petere=to seek
                  (2) meaning: to appease, to cause to be favorably disposed towards
         2. C.H. 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.
              a. correct in rejecting such an idea in reference to God
              b. 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                   propitiation.
        3. Leon Morris is perhaps the foremost proponent of using "propitiation" as the primary               meaning.
                 "...the 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" and "propitiation"


A sacrifice that satisfies the legal
    requirements of God
Satisfies the just consequence of death
    for sin (justice)

Forensic satisfaction
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 or mechanical


A sacrifice that satisfies what God's     character requires
Satisfies the just offense and wrath
    of God toward the violation of His
    character of holiness
Personal satisfaction
Relational, personal
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 attitudes

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 synthesis.
    C. Proponents of exclusivistic extremes both cast their concepts in epistemological contexts that
          fail to adequately recognize the ontological reality of Christ's life and work.
    D. Exclusivists must beware of misrepresenting the character of God.
         1. Expiation only: God is not to be identified only with legal justice of retribution, restitution               and reclamation.
         2. Propitiation only: God is not to be identified with inadequate anthropomorphic attitudes               unworthy of His character.
              a. 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 of God.
              b. Love of God is not concessionary, conciliatory sentimentality leading to mushy mercy.
    E. Liberal and conservative theological positions
         1. Liberal theology tended toward "expiation" exclusivism (cf. RSV)
         2. Conservative theology tended toward "propitiation" exclusivism.
         3. Somewhat 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 emphasis
         1. Jesus Christ is the expiatory sacrifice
         2. Jesus Christ is the propitiatory satisfaction



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