Saturday, February 5, 2011

Propitiation or Expiation in Saint Paul


"All have sinned, all come short of the glory of God, but they are justified for nothing by His grace through the ransom provided in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as the means of propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith". (Romans 3:23-25).


The Term "Propitiation"


The Greek word (hilasterion) is derived from a verb which in pagan writers and inscriptions has two meanings:

(a) "to placate" a man or a god;

(b) "to expiate" a sin, i.e. to perform an act (such as the payment of a fine or the offering of a sacrifice) by which its guilt is annulled.

The former meaning is overwhelmingly the more common. In the Septuagint, on the other hand, the meaning (a) is practically unknown where God is the object, and the meaning (b) is found in scores of passages. Thus the biblical sense of the verb is "to perform an act whereby guilt or defilement is removed." The idea underlying it is characteristic of primitive religion. The ancients felt that if a taboo was infringed, the person or thing involved became unclean, defiled or profane. The condition of defilement might be removed by the performance of the appropriate act: it might be washing with water, or sprinkling with blood, or simply the forfeiture of some valuable object to the deity concerned with the taboo. Such acts were felt to have the value, so to speak, of a disinfectant. Thus in the Old Testament a whole range of ritual actions are prescribed for disinfecting the priest, the altar, or the people from various forms of defilement, ritual or moral. Our versions in such cases use the phrase "to make propitiation"; but the more proper translation would be "to make expiation". This meaning holds good wherever the subject of the verb is a man. But, as religious thought advanced, it came to be felt that, where the defilement was moral, God alone could annul it; and so the same verb is used with God as subject in the sense "to forgive".1

In accordance with biblical usage, therefore, the substantive (hilasterion) would mean, not propitiation, but "a means by which guilt is annulled": if a man is the agent, the meaning would be "a means of expiation"; if God, "a means by which sin is forgiven". Biblical usage is determinative for Paul. The rendering "propitiation" is therefore misleading, for it suggests the placating of an angry God, and although this would be in accord with pagan usage, it is foreign to biblical usage. In the present passage it is God who puts forward the means whereby the guilt of sin is removed, by sending Christ. The sending of Christ, therefore, is the divine method of forgiveness. This brings the teaching of the present passage into exact harmony with that of v. 8-9.


1 The full evidence for all this is given in my book, The Bible and the Greeks, pp. 82-95, where I have examined, I believe, every occurrence of the verb in the Septuagint.

C. H. Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans,
Fontana Books (1959), pp. 78-79.

12 comments:

Cole said...

How would you interpret Col. 2:14?

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

It seems to be saying that God nailed it to the cross.

Jnorm said...

Cole,

Do you believe in Baptismal Regeneration? What exactly are you getting at with Col 2:14?

Also, do you know what we are trying to say with the word "expiation"?

Cole said...

What I'm trying to say is that it seems as though God was involved in the death of Christ. Maybe not directly but in the sense that He allowed evil men to have their way with Him. This is how God would sometimes take His wrath out on His people in the O.T. He would allow the actions of evil men destroy the objects of His wrath. It seems that Christ also drank from the cup that symbolized God's wrath. How would you see this verse:

Acts 4:27-28:

truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.


God seems to have been involved in the death of Christ.

Cole said...

Also Jnorm,

Do you think it's possible that both are true?

Our sins were expiated and God was propitiated?

The Bible says that it pleased the Lord to bruise Him:


Isaiah 53:10:

The Lord was pleased to bruise Him,

He has put Him to grief...




How could it please God to bruise His Son? In one sense God wasn't pleased in the death of His Son. God is not a sadist. He's not bloodthirsty. Sin, in and of itself, and the suffering of the innocent, is abhorrent to God. However, when God took into account the universality of things, the death of of Christ was seen by the Father as a wonderful way to save sinners. This is what God was pleased about in allowing the murder of His Son. The Father's joy was in what the Son accomplished in dying and in the depth of love the Son had for the Father's glory. When Jesus died He glorified His Father's name and He atoned for the sins of sinners.

So, in one sense God was grieved when evil men murdered His Son. In another sense He was pleased. One of the main reasons the atoning work of the Son pleased the Father was that He knew that by His Son's bruises and shed blood you and I would be healed and covered in His righteousness by being washed in the blood. God's not some raving lunatic who delights in the sheding of innocent blood in and of itself.

Lvka said...

On Colossians 2:13-14: The Cross is the end of the Old Law. As Christ Himself exclaimed on Calvary, "It is finished!". By dying together with Him to sin in Baptism, through immersion, even as He Himself descended into Hell, and by rising together with Him through emersion to the newness of (true, eternal) life, even as He was raised from the dead by the Father through the power of the life-giving Spirit, we are made a new creature IN Christ Jesus, free from the Law, not in an amoral or antinomian sense, but rather empowered by the grace of the same Holy Spirit to walk according to its inner witness, and not after the manner of the flesh, following the dead letter of the Law. [Spirit-grace-life vs. Law-letter-death: Romans 2:29, 7:6; 2 Corinthians 3:6; etc].

Lvka said...

I don't see God's wrath in Acts 4:27-28, nor divine vengeance in Isaiah 53.

Cole said...

what about the cup that Jesus drank from?

Lvka said...

Same thing: where did you see "wrath" being mentioned in the verses that speak of it?

Cole said...

Yea, I've been doing some thinking on this lately and I think I may change my view.

Didn't the disciples drink from the same cup Jesus drank from? Clearly this couldn't have been God's wrath because then the disciples would have had to have been being punnished. I think that the cup may have been a cup of suffering only.

Lvka said...

Luke 22:18  For I say unto you: I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.

Cole said...

I was thinking of the cup of suffering:

In Matthew 20:20-23 it is written:

Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
"What is it you want?" He asked.

She said, "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom."

"You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said to them. "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?"

"We can," they answered. Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father".

It makes no sense for God to punnish our sins on Christ and then punnish the desciples for their sins with the same wrath. The desciples drank from the same cup.

Lvka said...

Yes.

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