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Monday, January 21, 2008

Expiation vs Propitiation

What does the word ιλαστηριον(hilasterion) mean in Romans 3:25?

NKJV verses 24-26
"24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in
Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through
faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had
passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the
present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the
one who has faith in Jesus."

In the "Expository Dictionary of Bible words" they translate the word as Propitiation.

They said:


"hilasterion is found only three times in the New Testament.
Each occurrence has a great deal of theological significance and refers to the
"atonement sacrifice" of Jesus Christ. It is this sacrifice that paid the
penalty for the sins of the people of God in their entirety-past, present, and
future. This substitutionary atonement appeased, or "propitiated," the wrath of
God once and for all (cf. Rom 3:25; 1st John 2:2; 4:10)"

page 766 of the expository Dictionary of the Bible. Words edited by Stephen D. Renn and Published by Hendrickson Publishers @ 2005

In dealing with Hilasmos it says:

"The noun hilasmos is found only twice. 1 John 2:2; 4:10
refer to the "propitiation" affected by the sacrificial death of christ on the
cross, whose atoning work eradicated the sin of human beings and appeased the
wrath of God."

page 766 of the Expository Dictionary of Bible
Words edited by Stephen D. Renn and published by Hendrickson Publishers @ 2005

This seems to be the standard Reformed understanding of Hilasmos and Hilasterion. However, many of the church Fathers had a different understanding of Hilasterion. Another difference I noticed about this dictionary is that it didn't have a section for "Justice".
Instead, it refers one to look under the words "judgement" and "righteous". Many Orthodox Jews understand "Justice" with the Hebrew word "zakah". When the Jews were delivered by God from Egyptian bondage they called that "Zakah".

However, in this dictionary the word Zakah is under the catagory of "cleansing". And it says:

"The verb zakah means to "be clean, pure" in a moral sense in most of the eight
occurrences of the term(e.g. job 15:14; 25:4; Ps 51:4)
The meaning "to keep
oneself (morally) pure" is indicated in Pss. 71:13; 119:9; Prov, 20:9. See also
Isa 1:16

page 184 of the expository Dictionary of the Bible Words edited
by Stephen D. Renn and published by Hendrickson Publishers

The reason why I brought this up is because Romans 3:24-26 also deals with the idea of Justice.


"and are justified freely by his grace through the
redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of
atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice,
because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—
he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and
the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus."

But going back to Expiation vs Propitiation I have noticed that alot of the Fathers and nonfathers understood hilasterion to mean "expiation".

Origen: "Although the holy Apostle teaches many wonderful things about our Lord
Jesus Christ which are said mysteriously about him, in this passage he has given
special prominence to something which, I think, is not readily found in other
parts of scripture. For having just said that Christ gave himself as a
redemption for the entire human race so that he might ransom those who were held
captive by he adds something even more sublime, saying that God put
him forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This means
that by the sacrifice of Christ's body God has made expiation on behalf of men
and by this has shown his righteousness, in that he forgave their previous sins,
which they had committed in the service of the worst possible tyrants. God
endured this and allowed these things to happen.
Commentary on the Epistle to
the Romans."

page 101 of ACCS Romans edited by Gerald Bray & Thomas C. Oden

Ambrosiaster: "Paul says this, because in Christ God put forward, i.e.,
appointed, himself as a future expiation for the human race if they believed.
This expiation was by his blood. We have been set free by his death so that God
might reveal him and condemn death by His passion. This was in order to make his
promise clear, by which he set us free from sin as he had promised before. And
when he fulfilled this promise he showed himself to be righteous."

102 of ACCS Romans edited by Gerald Bray & Thomas C. Oden

Gregory of Nyssa: "Christ, being an expiation by his blood, teaches each one
thinking of this to become himself a propitiation, sanctifying his soul by the
mortification of his members."
On Perfection

page 102 of ACCS Romans edited by
Gerald & Thomas C. Oden

Chrysostom: "Paul calls the redemption an expiation to show that, if the
Old Testament type had such power, much more did its New Testament counterpart
have it.....What does it mean to show God's righteousness? It is like declaring
his riches not only for him to be rich himself but also to make others rich...Do
not doubt, for righteousness is not of works but of faith.
Homilies on Romans 7
page 102 of ACCS Romans edited by Gerald & Thomas C. Oden

Theodoret of Cyr: "The mercy seat was gold-plated and placed on top of the ark.
On each side was the figure of a cherub. When the high priest approached it, the
holy kindness of God was revealed. The apostle teaches us that Christ is the
true mercy seat, of which the one in the Old Testament was but a type. The name
applies to christ in his humanity, not in his divinity. For as God Christ
responded to the expiation made at the mercy seat. It is as man that he receives
this label, just as elsewhere he is called a sheep, a lamb, sin and curse.
Furthermore, the ancient mercy seat was bloodless because it was inanimate.
It could only receive the drops of blood pouring from the sacrificial victims.
But the Lord Christ is both God and the mercy seat, both the priest and the
lamb, and he performed the work of our salvation by his blood, demanding only
faith from us.
Interpretation of the Letter to the Romans"

page 102 of
ACCS Romans edited by Gerald Bray & Thomas C. Oden

"The Cross is made necessary by human nature, not by the Divinity...."we are
purified by the eternal Spirit who purges the earlier damage in us which we
received from the flesh, and we are also purified by our blood (for I call the
blood which Christ my God has shed our own), which expiates our original
weaknesses and redeems the world." We needed God to become flesh and die in
order to give us life....A few drops of blood renewed the whole World and did
for all men what rennet does for milk by drawing us together and binding us into
a unity"....Christ accepted everything proper to man, "everything which is
filled with death," and by dying He destroyed death. Death is Resurrection, and
this is the mystery of the Cross."

Archpriest Georges Florovsky(quoting
Gregory the Theologian), The Eastern Fathers of the fourth century B#47, volume
VII, pp 143,144
page 172 from the Orthodox Lexicon called "The Bible and the
Holy Fathers: For Orthodox"

It seems from many of the Fathers "hilasterion" was understood as a type of purging, cleansing, eradicating.....ect.

I think Tertullian sums it up when he says:

"Every Soul, then, by reason of its birth, has its nature in Adam until it
is born again in Christ. Moreover, it is unclean all the time that it remains
without this regeneration. And because it is unclean, it is actively

page 273 of A dictionary of early christian beliefs modified
and edited by Bercot.

Paul tells Titus that "regeneration" washes.

Titus 3:5
"not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His
mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy

Jesus Christ as our Expiation fits the Old Testament modal of animal sacrifices. Hebrews chapter 9 shows the relationship.

NKJV Hebrews chapter 9:11-15
"But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the
greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this
creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He
entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.
For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the
unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the
blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to
God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for
this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the
redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are
called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.""

The blood of Christ cleanses

1 John 1:7But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have
fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us
from all sin.

The blood of Christ washes

and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead,
and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us
from our sins in His own

So with this said I will say that it seems as if hilasterion means something more than what the Expository Dictionary of the Bible depicted.



xariskai said...

Propitiation and expiation are alternate translations of the same Greek word, but the theological implications are quite different. The patristic quotations in English, of course, may reflect the translator's own perspective. It is helpful from an grammatical/exegetical perspective to consider whether God or sins are the subject of a given passage or quotation since propitiation has reference to God (whose attitude is supposedly changed from wrath to acceptance) whereas expiation has reference to sin. Also the question is raised whether God Himself changes, as is tacitly presupposed by propitiation, but not by expiation.

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