The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Commentary on NT usage of "propitiate" (JRP)

After writing up an analysis on how authors in the canonical New Testament use the terms we translate as “propitiate” and “atone / reconcile”, I decided it might be best to post each example that I’ve found so far as discreet entries in a new topical thread, with a summary consideration of the material (so far) at the end. Although if further examples are found, they can be added easily to the analytical list this way with new entries.

This thread covers the far more difficult analyses on “propitiate”.

The analysis for ‘atonement’ (‘reconciliation’) can be found here. It isn’t nearly as long, because the thrust of the various actions can be more clearly seen on examination; and checking the uses doesn’t require keeping some key cultural contexts in mind. There is much more theology, per se, in the analysis below, though, which will help make more sense of why the details of the NT uses of ‘atonement’ turn out like they do.

I expect modern English readers, as a whole, will be less familiar with the term “propitiate” than with “reconcile”, or even “atone”. “Reconcile” is still used sometimes in our language outside theology; and “atone” is (in my experience) used rather more often in worship and theology than “propitiate”. (I find “atone” used more often outside theology than “propitiate”, too, though maybe less often than “reconcile”.)

The term “propitiate” itself is Latin, and seems originally to have meant something like “toward leaning”. By metaphorical application, the term came to be a way of talking about getting someone to favor one’s self, to ‘incline favorably’ so to speak, or to ‘go our way’.

The Greek root word in the New Testament which is typically translated “propitiate” (when, in modern days, it isn’t being translated with a more obvious meaning–more on that in a minute), is {hilas}. It’s a way of talking about happiness or joy. (Although, another root term, and its cognates, is used in the NT far more often for that purpose: {chara}.) It isn’t the word in the Greek NT for laughter, but the underlying idea is the same; our word “hilarity” (and “hilarious”) comes directly from this, through Latin.

In religion, pagans and Greek-speaking Jews both used the term in the sense of deity smiling. The natural human inference from the way the world looks set up, is that gods are not intrinsically loving toward us, so we have to try to get them to smile at us by promises, offerings, praise (or flattery!) and so forth. That’s also a natural inference from experience in human nature!–when other humans aren’t intrinsically loving toward us, we have to do something to get them to be happy with us. We want to be happy, and so we want them to be happy, especially if their unhappiness is going to make us sad in various ways.

The verb form of {hilas}, therefore, is about giving happiness, joy, laughter. When someone {hilaskomai}s someone, the receiver of the action is made happy. This has obvious connections in several ways to the metaphor about ‘favorably inclining’ someone, which is why the verb form of ‘propitiate’ was used (first in Latin, and then in subsequent languages) for that kind of application of {hilas}.

In the NT contexts (as will be seen later), the joy being given is always some kind of authoritative mercy; which is one reason why translators nowadays tend to use “mercy”, in some fashion, for the term.

The usage almost always (with maybe one exception) involves a special cognate of the term that was culturally applied as a metaphor relating to someone guilty appealing to the judge for mercy and receiving it; which is the concept behind our old phrase about ‘throwing one’s self on the mercy of the court’. It doesn’t have to be a legal court, though; it could be the seat of authority for any acknowledged ruler. (The term may or may not be related to the more common term for ‘mercy’ in the NT, {eleos} and its cognates; but if it isn’t related, it’s probably some sort of double-meaning wordplay, because the sound would be very similar.)

The concept, though not the term, shows up explicitly in some parables of Jesus. The most interesting for our purpose may be the parable Jesus tells Simon the Pharisee during the dinner party crashed by the “woman of the city who was a sinner”. (GosLuke 7:36-50; the parable happens at vv.40-43.) A certain moneylender (the one in authority for the parable) had two debtors; one owed five hundred daywages and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he freely gives them joy instead: the term used by Jesus for ‘forgiveness’ here (and by Simon in verse 43 when answering Jesus’ question about which of the debtors would love the moneylender more) is a cognate of {chara}–one of the few times this term is used for ‘forgiveness’ or ‘mercy’ in the New Testament. But that’s because another term also meaning to give joy or happiness is usually used in circumstances of this sort instead: the term we’re looking at here, {hilas}, and especially its compound form which typically refers to the mercy seat or seat of propitiation.

This concept was so important in OT theology, that when the Jews translated into Greek, they began using this compound term as a noun for the throne itself. It doesn’t make much sense in English; it would be like us using the term “the propitiary” to talk about the throne of God. But this concept of the word being very strongly linked in Jewish theology to the throne of God’s judgment, is important for helping to understand how the word is used in by New Testament authors–even when they aren’t using the term specifically for that purpose.

We’ll see an example (arguably the only example) of an author referring to God’s throne per se as “the propitiary” soon, as well as some more NT examples of this concept being applied without the use of the term.

For my first example of the term, I’m choosing the one place in the NT where the mercy-seat concept probably isn’t in view.

When Jesus tells the disciples He is going to Jerusalem to be rejected by the Sanhedrin and executed (and then to rise again), Peter takes Him aside and declares, “Be it propitious to Thee Lord!” – Matt 16:22.

Peter is using a colloquial phrase, like we would say “Lord have mercy on you!” if we don’t want something bad to happen (or it’s already happened). We don’t always (or even usually) mean we think the person has done something wrong, we’re just asking God to save or spare them from something happening to them. The phrase doesn’t translate very well into English, so English translations usually go with something else, like “That be far from Thee, Lord!” i.e., some other colloquial phrase with the same gist, in the translating language.

The main thing to observe for our purposes here, though, is that, grammatically, the one about to suffer is the one Peter hopes to be ‘propitiated’. Not the Sanhedrin. (Or even God for that matter.)

My next example is actually a quote from the OT, used by a NT author.

The Hebraist, patching together statements from YHWH ADNY through several prophets from the OT about what God plans for Israel, quotes God as saying, “For I will be propitious to their injustices, and of their sins and their rebellions shall I under no circumstances still be reminded.” Heb 8:12.

God, the judge finding fault with Israel (v 8), is also the one doing the propitiating after judging and condemning Israel; rebel Israel, being saved from their sins and recovenanted with a new covenant, by God, is the object and receiver of the action of propitiation.

It should be noted, that in neither of our first two examples, is God the one receiving the ‘propitiation’. God is being appealed to for propitiation; the one receiving the propitiation is the one who is in trouble! Christ is in trouble with the Sanhedrin, in the first example; rebel Israel is in trouble with God, in this new example. Peter is tacitly ‘going over the heads’ of the Sanhedrin in the first example by appealing to God to give propitiation for Jesus’ sake. In this new case, the one giving propitiation is God again, this time to those who have sinned against Him.

The Hebraist probably had specifically in mind the “mercy seat” of the Temple when he used {hileo_s} to translate “mercy” in verse 8:12; because shortly afterward in verse 9:5 he specifically calls the throne of the tabernacle, overshadowed by cherubim, in the Temple’s holiest place, by the term customarily used for it in Jewish Greek:

“Now, after the second curtain, is a tabernacle which is termed the holy-of-holies, having the golden censer and the ark of the covenant, covered about everywhere with gold, in which was the golden urn having the manna, and Aaron’s staff which germinates, and the tablets of the covenant. And up over it were the cherubim of glory, overshadowing the {hilasmos} [the Propitiation], concerning which I have nothing specifically to say at the moment.” – Heb 9:5.

This is a reference to the object on the ark of the covenant representing the throne of God, in which power Christ the Mediator is seated (last mentioned by the Hebraist back at the beginning of chp 8: “We have such a Chief Priest Who is seated in the right [as the very power, ‘in the right hand’ as the metaphor is usually put] of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle, which [tabernacle] the Lord pitches and no man.”)

This throne is the mercy-seat, the seat of laughing joy.

When ancient Near Middle-Easterns talked about throwing themselves on the mercy of the court (as we would say now), the metaphor they would use was to beg the king/judge/authority to make a place for them beneath his throne, sheltering under his power and protection.

This image is even literally used (insofar as poetic dream imagery can be ‘literal’!) in RevJohn 6:9-11, where those who have been slain for the Word of God and for the testimony they had maintained, are now safe underneath the altar, crying out for God to avenge their blood in judgment. In this case they aren’t pleading with God to be merciful on them, but they are appealing to Him as the judge of the seat (on top of the altar) to get busy acting as judge.

Later in RevJohn, chp 22, after the judgement of the lake of fire (earlier at the end of chp 20), those who have been thrown into the lake of fire and so who are still outside the New Jerusalem, are exhorted by the redeemed, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, to drink freely and without cost the water of the river of life and slake their thirst, and to wash their filthy robes in the river of life which is flowing out of the city (thus obtaining permission to enter the city and eat of the tree of life thus completing their healing). This river of the water of life comes from the (single) throne of God and of the Lamb.

The term ‘mercy-seat’ isn’t specifically used there in RevJohn 22, but the basic idea is being used: the throne of God is ultimately for mercy and salvation.

It is this notion of the mercy-seat that the tax-collector is appealing to, in the parable of Jesus from Luke 18:9-14.

Unlike the proud Pharisee (praying ultimately toward himself, in thanking God that he is not even like other men, such as that tax-collector over there), this stereotypical traitor to his country and thus to God dares not even lift his eyes to heaven when praying, but beating on his chest (like a woman grieving) says, “Oh God, propitiate me, the sinner!”

In the Greek of the story, he is using the term for the mercy-seat as an action, asking God to mercy-seat him. He is certainly not exalting himself to ask God to do this; the whole point to the parable is that (against expectation) it is the Pharisee who is exalting himself and the taxman who is humbling himself–it would be difficult to humble one’s self much farther than to beg, acknowledging one’s self as the sinner, for a place beneath the seat of one’s judge!

God is the one doing the propitiating, making propitiation for the tax collector, not the tax-collector; the tax-collector begs for and receives the action as the object of God’s propitiation. (And so goes back down to his home, made just, unlike the Pharisee.)

This helps clarify what the Hebraist was talking about, back near the end of what we call his second chapter.

Christ is in all things to be made like His brethren, partaking of the same death with them, that He may become a merciful and faithful Chief Priest in going toward God (i.e. returning to the Father), to propitiate for the sins of the people.

Christ is not propitiating God here: God is not a sinner and needs no propitiation!

But much more theologically important, the Hebraist spent what we call his first chapter emphatically stating in various ways that although the Father and the Son are distinct persons, they are corporately in very essence and identity YHWH. (“Always have been, always will be” as the Hebraist almost literally says. {g}) It is the Son, the very power of the Father, Who is Himself sitting on the throne of God as God Himself, judging Israel later in chapter 8, as previously noted–the author goes directly from using personal pronouns about Christ our Mediator into using those same pronouns about YHWH ADNY ELHM, the Lord of Lords Who judges against Israel for her sins but Who also then propitiates Israel from His seat of propitiation (metaphorically illustrated on the tabernacle of the ark of the covenant in the earthly Temple described by the Hebraist afterward in chapter 9, as also previously noted.)

But even grammatically, it is Christ as very God Himself, in unity with the Father, Who does the action of propitiation in verse 2:17; it is the sins of the people, or rather the people themselves for their sins, who are the object and receiver of propitiation in that verse. It is not God, whether the Father or the Son or both together, Who is (or are) the object and receiver of propitiation.

The propitiation-seat term is also used by St. Paul (whom the Hebraist is clearly connected to, of course, and who might or might not be the Hebraist). In his case, he uses the term as a noun, and the grammatic construction is peculiar which makes for even more difficulties. (Meaning this is going to be the longest entry yet. :mrgreen: ) But once the context is established by analysis elsewhere, the saying makes sense enough.

All have sinned and so are wanting of the glory of God. (3:23) The usual translation is “fallen short of the glory”, but the actual term is ‘wanting’; which will fit in very well afterward.

(For an extensive essay on the use of this term in the NT, see this later comment. I hardly had time and space to go into detail about ‘wanting’ vs. ‘falling short’ here. :wink: )

Everyone who has sinned, though, is also being made just in His grace, through the deliverance which is in Christ Jesus. (24) It’s important to note that the sentence cannot and does not end at verse 23 (with all having sinned and wanting the glory of God, or even “falling short” of that glory): the grammar of verses 24-26 is such (verse 27 certainly starts a new sentence, with a rhetorical question), that there would be no grammatic subject for verse 24! We, the all who have sinned, are being justified (made just, made into fair and good people) in His grace, and even “gratuitously” so!

(The adverb there is {dorean}, to give gushingly. It’s one of my favorite words in scripture; which is why I have a woman in my second novel give it to her husband as a marriage name. {ggg!} It’s a biological pun, of course, but the idea is that he gives himself freely and excessively for her.)

So God is giving His grace ({chara}, joy) gratuitously (gushing), and we (all who have sinned) are being justified in it. This being-made-just is directly related to the righteousness (just-togetherness) of God being made manifest through Jesus Christ’s faith, into all, and on all who are believing, back in verses 21-22: a righteousness of God apart from the Law yet being attested to “by the law and the prophets” (meaning the Tanahk, the OT scriptures.)

How is this being done? Through the deliverance that is in Christ Jesus, Whom God purposed for the Propitiation-Seat. (25a). The larger cultural context here, which is left unstated because St. Paul was writing to Jews and Gentiles familiar with Jewish thought, is that Christ Jesus (the Son) is meant by God (the Father) to sit on the throne of judgment: the throne of God Almighty, which in the OT (there’s the reference to the testimony to “the Law and the Prophets”) is promised to the Presence of God, the Angel of the Face/Presence Who Himself is YWHW visible yet somehow personally distinctly not YHWH unseen; Who in turn is somehow to be identified with (as YHWH), and yet also somehow personally distinct from, the Shekinah, the Glory of God, the shining that was seen and also unseen as the Presence of God in the tabernacle and Temple, Who also (with the Father and the Son, when various scriptural references are put together) performs judgment as God in relation to the throne of God.

This isn’t only the throne of ultimate judgment, though; it is the Mercy-thing, the throne where God propitiates sinful Israel, passing over the penalties of her sins. (And not only the Jews, but the nations, too; vv 29-30.)

That might mean sparing her from punishment (as with the tax-collector, or the two debtors to the moneylender, or the unfaithful stewards from other parables–though as one parable goes on to show, if he who has been shown mercy refuses to also have mercy…!)

Or (as in the OT refs sewn together by the Hebraist in his 8th chapter), the passing over of the penalties might mean ending her punishment. (The sins and the penalties both occured in the loving patience, or “forbearance” of God, before the mercy and salvation. St. Paul points this out at the end of verse 25.)

But either way, the point is that ultimately the throne of judgment is meant by God as the throne of mercy, or propitiation, for everyone who has sinned. The judgment (and punishment) comes from the Father and the Son; the mercy, the propitiation, comes from the Father and the Son: from God on His throne either way.

We are also made just through the faith in His blood, which is into/for a display of His fair-togetherness. A display to whom? A display to everyone, ultimately, but until this is all completed the display is to sinners about the character of God Who sheds His very blood for our sake–literally, as Christ, but the literal blood is also a figure pointing to the even more fundamental self-sacrifice of God for everyone: even for sinners. (And there, by the way, is a reference to the cross as being a forensic demonstration, so to speak, of God’s true character and justice. God does not throw down judgment on us from on high, but as the Hebraist pointed out in his second chapter, already referred to, He partakes of our death with us: that’s the kind of judge and mediator He is, one Who acts in sympathy even with sinners. The Hebraist makes this point in various ways throughout the rest of his epistle, too.)

This is all packed into Rom 3:19-31. But it isn’t spelled out because Paul knew his listeners would be familiar with the concept of the greatest Agent of God being God Himself; the promise of God throughout the OT to send His Presence/Face/Glory once again to sit on the throne of the Temple among men, nevermore to leave (as He had done in the past as part of their punishment); and the throne of ultimate judgment against sinners and sin also being the ultimate Mercy-Seat where penitent rebels against God may find acceptance under Him.

From here, I can move to the most difficult scriptural testimony to assess along this line; because unlike Rom 3:21-31, the grammar is pretty straightforward here, but could seem to testify against the notion I’ve been building from looking at other pieces (which also feature very clear grammar) and recounting the cultural context first.

(As you might expect, this will be by far the longest entry yet… :wink: )

In what we call his first epistle, John writes: “My little children: these (things) I am writing to you, that you may not be sinning. Yet if anyone should be sinning, we have a [something] with/toward the Father, Jesus Christ the Just. And He is a (or the) propitiation about our sins; and not only about ours, but about the whole world, too.” (1 John 2:1-2)

There are several interesting and important things to notice concerning this scripture (and its contexts); but I will start with word I bracketed over as [something]. You will find this term translated various ways, but the word is Paraclete {parakle_tos}: the exact same word used by Christ to describe the One Who will be sent after Christ’s forthcoming resurrection and ascension, throughout the Final Discourse material in GosJohn (14:6, 14:26, 15:26, 16:7.)

Trying to suss out the various implications of the Paraclete in GosJohn is hard enough as it is: the Paraclete seems to be God Himself, sent by the Father, sent by the Son, maybe the spirit of the Father and/or the Son, yet somehow distinctly identifiable as being neither the Father nor the Son per se. (I’ve discussed several of the issues surrounding the Paraclete in GosJohn already, in my threads on metaphysical and scriptural criticisms against trinitarian theism; more could be done along that line, too!)

Is the Evangelist here saying that Jesus Christ is the Paraclete mentioned by Jesus during GosJohn? Grammatically he might or might not be, but then again the Paraclete of GosJohn seems identifiable with Jesus, too. (Except also not, somehow.) From a trinitarian perspective, all these factors together are hardly a problem; on the contrary, all these factors together (even if 1 John 2:2 isn’t adduced) fit trinitarian theology very well: there is a 3rd Person of God, proceeding/sent (and sent) from the Father and the Son (with some debate among us about whether the 3rd Person proceeds from the Son as well as being sent by the Son), Who is a different Person than the Father or the Son, yet is with them the one singular entity of God (in a compound unity.)

But here in the epistle, John may only be saying that Jesus is a paraclete; the grammar doesn’t indicate one way or another.

So, leaving aside the question of the divinity of the Paraclete for now, what does the word even mean?

Well, literally it means beside-caller. Most often in the New Testament, it means to plead with someone: as the centurion pleads with Jesus in Matt 8:5 to heal his servant-boy–also the nobleman in Cana for Jesus to heal his son in GosJohn–or as the mob demons plead with Jesus in all three Synoptic accounts, to be sent into the herd of swine. There are many uses in the New Testament of this sort; but they all (so far as I can tell) involve the pleader asking someone strongly for a favor, whether it’s a congregation asking Paul to stay with them, or whether it’s Jesus saying in GosMatt that He could have asked the Father for ten legions of angels to rescue Him, or whether it’s God pleading through evangelists for sinners to be reconciled to Him. (We’ll get to that example later, when I discuss the uses of the word ‘atonement/reconcile’ in the NT.)

It’s also used as a term for consolation and comforting, in the NT; the application is borrowed from the cultural notion of standing beside one in distress crying out with him or her. It’s a powerful statement of hopefully sharing grief (thus comforting / consoling the grieving one.) From this meaning, it can also be used more particularly and technically to mean a legal advocate, who stands with the accused about to be put to grief by the judge, to help the accused one.

There are various ways of applying these meanings to the Holy Spirit (in trinitarian theology or otherwise), and/or to the “Paraclete” mentioned often by Christ in GosJohn’s final discourse. It’s usually translated “consoler” or “comforter” there, following Christ’s promise that God will send Him when the disciples are grieving because Jesus has returned to the Father. (As is common when talking about the Holy Spirit elsewhere in scripture, sometimes the pronouns are “It” and sometimes they’re personally “Him”; which, incidentally, implies distinction from the Father or the Son, Who never have impersonal pronouns used of them there.)

But what meaning are we looking at in 1 John 2?

If anyone should be sinning, we have one who stands beside us calling. Calling in what way? Calling {pros ton patera}: calling to or toward the Father. At the least, Jesus is standing with us facing the Father (metaphorically speaking), grieving with us. Considering that John is talking about ‘if anyone does sin’, a translator would be wise to think in terms of an advocate standing with us in court.

So far so good. But then John uses a form of the word ‘propitiate’ which is almost unique in the New Testament; it is, in fact, only used once again, by John himself later in this same epistle, when repeating the phrase {hilasmos peri to_n hamartio_n he_mo_n}: “a propitation about our sins”.

In that later chapter, 4:7-10, John is exhorting his beloved readers to be loving one another, for love is out of God and (even more strongly) God is love. “In this,” he continues, “was manifested the love of God among us, that God has dispatched (sent with a mission) His only-begotten Son into the world that we should be living through Him. In this is love: not that we love God, but that He loves us and dispatches His Son a propitiation about our sins.”

The Son or the sending of the Son may be the propitiation here. Back in 2:2, John writes that “He” is a propitiation about our sins: same phrase, but with an {autos estin}, “he is”, included (plus a conjunction {kai} to introduce the sentence connecting it to the previous sentence). The “He” could be Jesus Christ the Just, the immediately previous person being talked about; or the “He” could be the Father, Who was also just immediately being talked about and, moreover, is the one Whom John has been talking about with that pronoun for most or (arguably 1:5) all of chapter 1, including the last several times he used that pronoun. But the use of the same phrase in chapter 4 is about Jesus one way or another, whether Jesus Himself or the sending of Jesus.

So, comparing both uses of the phrase, the interpretation most probably is that Jesus Christ the Just is Himself the propitiation about our sins. (And not only about ours, but about the whole world’s, too.)

What both contexts also indicate, though–not even considering comparison with other uses of the term in scripture yet–is that God the Father is the one doing the propitiation: God the Father sends the propitiation. There is no one in view propitiating God the Father; the term isn’t used as a verb, much less with God as the object and receiver of the action of the propitiation as an action itself.

The propitiation Himself (as John uses the term in this epistle) is admittedly standing beside us, toward the Father, calling out in some fashion. Calling toward the Father?–maybe. But it sure isn’t to change the Father’s mind about us; the Son is not working a change on the Father in regard to us. On the contrary, the whole point of John mentioning Christ as the propitiation at all, is that God loves everyone already, and loves us this much, even sinners.

This is love, not that we love God, but that God (Who is love) loves even sinners so much that He sends joyous mercy (propitiation) about our sins to stand with us, calling out beside us, facing toward the Father, cleaning us of every sin with His own blood (1:7.)

That echoes a huge amount of gospel material in the New Testament, whether in the Gospels or elsewhere. (It echoes a substantial amount of material in the OT, too.) And it fits in quite well enough with the previously considered interpretations, especially once we recall that Christ Jesus is also the one sitting on the judgment throne. Our judge, the highest possible authority and judge, the one Who also is responsible for our punishment as sinners, is not sitting up high away from us and condemning us without mercy; He is not a judge Who needs “to be propitiated” (in the old pagan sense, the natural expectation of humanity) before He will act to mercifully save us; but He stands with us, too, sacrificing Himself to clean us from sin, partaking of our death with us.

God, our judge, is not a monad Who, in Himself, has nothing intrinsically to do with active coherence and fulfillment of personal relationships between persons–Who, in other words, has nothing essentially to do with love. God is Himself love, and from His seat of ultimate judgment He already acts in love toward us to give us Himself (the Father giving the Son) self-sacrificially for our sake, and not only in regard to the sins of those of us who know and follow Him already, but the sins of the whole world, too.

Is hopeless punishment what He sends concerning the sins of the whole world? No!–He ultimately sends “propitiation”, joyous mercy, from His throne, to ‘them’ as well as to ‘us’, so that if we (any of ‘us’ and ‘them’) will declare our sins, He is faithful and just to be pardoning us our sins and to be cleaning us from all injustice. (1:9)

So we have something to be doing, too, with God’s help: throwing ourselves on the merciful protection of God Who loves us and sacrifices Himself for our sake.

That’s the total contextual picture, of the use of the term “propitiate” in the New Testament (so far as I have been able to locate uses of the term).

While there is one place (in Romans) where the grammar is unclear about who is doing the action of propitiation and who is receiving the action, the other places (even 1 John, in its own way) clearly indicate that God Most High (as the Father and as the Son) is the one doing the action of propitiation toward us; with us (or secondarily our sins) as the object and receivers of the propitiation.

Neither the Father nor the Son receive propitiation about anything; and even when the Son is standing with us as our propitiation (and not only propitiation about our sins but about everyone else’s, too) He is certainly not acting to change the Father’s mind regarding us. He doesn’t have to: the Father already loves all sinners as much as the Son does, and already seeks the salvation and restoration of all sinners, which is why God sends His only-begotton Son.

Does this picture change, perhaps, when looking at how NT authors use the term we translate ‘atonement/reconciliation’?

Take a guess. :mrgreen: And then go on to the new thread, for that study.

Jason, that’s a little like saying that though God is the judge, He has little need for justice.

‘God is not a sinner.’ Christ died. OK. The wages of sin is death. OK. Disconnect?

Come on, Jason, you’ll taken a perfectly clear statement and turned it into nonsense. I do not know why you feel compelled to do that - unless you don’t like the original meaning - which, in the translations I use, does not say anything remotely to what you are forcing the text to say. What translation is the above from? If it’s your own - it should have been noted as such.

“But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins.” says John in the next chapter. Did he accomplish that? Everything in the Bible says he did. But from the epistle’s getgo John reminds us that we’re still sinning.

John again in chapter 4: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” I’m not sure it’s even possible to mangle that to read "he sent his Son to atone us.’ The idea that Christ died to remove or appease some Justifiable anger that we hold toward God baffles me. Who is the judge in that scenario?

Whatever disconnect may be there, it isn’t a disconnect that can be fixed by Christ either actually being a sinner or by God (the Father or otherwise) pretending Christ is a sinner. Multiple disconnects do not suddenly become a connective resolution.

I would say the resolution goes back to the intrinsically self-sacrificial character of the Son (and thus the intrinsically self-sacrificial nature of God in His own essence as love). There is more than one kind of death; there is a self-sacrificial death-into-life, which the Son eternally enacts in cooperative love with and for the Father; and there is a closely related self-sacrificial death-into-life, whereby the Father creates all not-God entities and systems of reality through the Son; and there is a self-sacrificial death of the Son wherein God allows derivatively free creatures to abuse His grace and yet continue existing. There is also a selfish death, where the result is annihilation for the selfishly acting one, acting against the ground of his own existence; or rather, it would be annihilation, but for the gracious love of God to keep the sinner in existence: a love that would have involved the two highest self-sacrificial deaths anyway, but which, so long as there are sinners, also involves the third kind of self-sacrificial death for the sake of the sinner to keep existing as a real, though rebellious, child of God (and not as only some kind of puppet).

The Son voluntarily pays the wage for our sin by means of that third self-sacrificial death, both historically on the cross and at every historical moment that a sinner exists. He can even be said to pay this wage to the Father, inasmuch as the Father loves sinners and seeks their restoration to righteousness–which hopelessly condemning the sinners to annihilation would certainly not accomplish.

The Son does not pay the wage (analogically speaking) by means of the death of sinful selfishness, though; which ought to be blatantly obvious at several levels (even if His paying of the wage otherwise is not immediately obvious to the understanding). The Son is not hopelessly annihilated out of existence; the Son is not hopelessly abandoned by God (yet continuing in existence somehow, which would be a total theological problem in itself); the Son is not hopelessly punished forever unendingly by God. (I’m pretty sure the Son is never said to be punished by God at all in the NT; and the one OT statement on the topic can be interpreted other ways. But even assuming the Son is punished by God, it should be blatantly obvious the Son doesn’t suffer any of those punishments.) We do have one statement from St. Paul to the effect that Christ becomes sin for us on the cross, but we have plenty of statements elsewhere (including from St. Paul or at least from his ‘school’) that the Son was not a sinner but was sinless; and since Christ actually sinning against God would vitiate the theology, I’m inclined to go with all those other statements and to look for some other meaning to St. Paul’s one peculiar statement on the topic. Nor are matters improved by trying to claim that God (whether only the Father or all the Persons in union) is a sinner.

I’ll discuss the translation of 1 John 2:2 in my next comment.

I had already written a lot on 1 John 2:2; which as I noted up front was the most difficult of the passages to comment on for various reasons, not least because it’s the verse that looks most, at first glance, like it runs at least somewhat against the thrust of the other verses. So I didn’t add in a discussion of specific translation issues, even though those are important, too; figuring that someone would ask about them eventually anyway–thus giving me an excuse to ramble on at even greater length on the topic. {g}

So, first things first.

The UBS/Nestle-Aland Greek text (with my usual underscores after long ‘o’ and long ‘e’):

kai autos hilasmos estin peri to_n hamartio_n he_mo_n ou peri to_n he_metero_n de monon alla kai peri holou tou kosmou

The text is settled across all copies, with no significant variations to mention (even by the broad standards of the UBS as to what might even remotely count as a significant variant.) So that won’t be a problem.

Comparing a few translations I have at hand which trend more literally than usual:

Knoch’s Concordant Literal: “And He is (the) propitiatory (shelter) concerned (with) our (the) sins, yet not concerned (with) (the) ours only, but concerned (with) (the) whole world also.”

Green’s Textus Receptus 3rd Edition, literal: “And He is (the) propitiation relating to our sins, and not relating to ours only, but also relating to all the world.”

Green’s TR 3rd Edition, super-literal: “and He a propitiation is concerning the sins of us; not concerning ours but only, but also concerning all the world.”

(Incidentally, Green prints {esti} instead of {estin} as the chief verb of the first clause; I’m not sure if that’s a printer oversite, or a variation of the TR’s sources which he thought was significant to include instead. Anyone wishing to volunteer a significance in the difference of the be-verb there–which there might be–certainly has my blessing to try! :smiley: The TR is identical here to the USB’s critical compilation otherwise; probably because, as noted, there are no significant variations in the record.)

{kai autos} – “[conjunction] He”. {Kai} is a multi-purpose conjunction connecting sentences or clauses, but stronger than {de} which serves much the same functions. There are no signs of this being one of the weirder uses of {kai}, so it probably means “and”, “but”, or “yet”. In hindsight, context established afterward in the sentence eliminates “but” or “yet” from liklihood, leaving over “and” which is the most popular meaning for the word anyway. “He”, as noted earlier in my analysis, is virtually certain to refer back to Jesus Christ the Just, from the end of the previous sentence.

{hilasmos estin} – {estin} is a third person singular is-verb, matching back up with {autos}. {hilasmos} is thus most likely a predicate noun which we would put on the other side of the verb in English (but which is probably being fronted here for relative emphasis): “And He is hilasmos”. {hilasmos} is an unusual form of {hilas-} in the New Testament texts; which, as previously noted, only appears here and a little later in 1 John’s fourth chapter where the surrounding clause is essentially repeated. The word is certainly being used as a noun, though it isn’t the word’s normal noun form in the NT which was used in the Greek OT (and afterward) as a nickname for the throne of God in judgment emphasizing the joy of His mercy. Consequently, though Knoch translates it “propitiatory shelter” (like the hilastarion itself), I thought it would be more in keeping with the simpler noun form to leave it as “propitiation” (like Green and most everyone else, incidentally).

There is no definite article for this noun; but one might or might not be intended anyway (this being Greek), and since it seems a pretty important noun I was inclined to supply a “the”. But I nodded in the direction of providing more options (since the actual language allows it), so I went with “a” instead (as we would literally translate in English) and optioned “the” parenthetically. No article at all might also work: “And He is propitiation”. If someone wants to try that, I have no immediate objection.

There are no other words for this clause. It is complete: {kai autos hilasmos estin}. (Or maybe {esti}, per Green’s TR?? As I said previously, I would be curious to see some discussion on that, although I suspect it’s only a printer’s glitch, since Green doesn’t apply the verb translation any differently than anyone else I’ve ever seen.)

{peri} – This is simply the preposition “about”. There isn’t anything else around it that would feasibly modify it into anything else, so that’s how I left it. Obviously it sounds a little weird in English, so there are various attempts at paraphrasing; but to be accurate, they ought to keep the notion of “about”. “Relating to” is pretty good; “concerning” or “concerned with” isn’t bad. (That’s Green and Knoch, respectively, though Green has both “relating to” and “concerning”.) “For” is quite wrong, though. (My NASV, which may be somewhat out of date now, has “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins”; so does Vine’s Expository Dictionary for their entry on {hilasmos}–ironically calling down the King James’ Version for adducing “of their sins” in parenthesis later in this verse, by the way. :wink: They’re correct about that; wrong about the “for”. My Holman Christian Standard has “for”, too. Somewhat amusingly, when I looked up {peri} in Vine’s index at the back, “for” wasn’t one of the translation options; rather two synonyms for “about”, and also “of”. Interestingly, not simply “about”; I’m not sure why, since {peri} is one of the first prepositions any Greek student learns.)

The preposition “about” implies an expected object of the preposition, and sure enough that’s what comes next.

{to_n hamartio_n he_mo_n} – literally “the sins us”, but with special suffix modifications to the possessive. So literally “the sins of us”; or “our sins”. (“The sins” is modified in their suffixes, too, in order to connect grammatically with {he_mo_n}’s possessive sense.)

So the full phrase here is {peri to_n hamartio_n he_mo_n}: “about the sins of us”, or “about our sins”.

{ou} – literally “not”; which can be used several ways, but also like our contrasting English conjunctive usage of “not”. Which, in contextual hindsight, is what’s happening here. (If you’re wondering why I translated an “and” in front of it, don’t worry, I’ll be getting to that soon.)

{peri to_n he_metero_n} – {peri} is simply “about” again (though the guys who translate it “for” previously tend to keep translating it that way instead, which would probably be right, on the principle of consistency in parallel usage, if “for” was the correct preposition to begin with.) {to_n he_metero_n} is the object of {peri}’s preposition; and like before the term is itself a couched prepositional possessive phrase. In this case, it literally means “the ours”, but we wouldn’t normally use a direct article there in English (that happens a lot in Greek) so it’s understandably omitted in translation. I could have gone with something like “about these of ours” or “those of ours” though.

{de monon} – {de} is a weak multi-purpose conjunction (like {kai} but not as strong). It’s a little weird to find it here in the sentence, because usually it would be signifying the beginning of another sentence or clause. But {monon alla}, for reasons I’ll get to in a minute, can’t be a new clause or sentence being begun by {de}. The way Greek works, however (which can be deeply irritating at time :mrgreen: ), words like this can be kicked back in the sentence when the author wants to emphasize other words for whatever reason; and that’s what’s happening here: {de} has been “postpositived” into the backfield. In English, we’d put it up near the “not”; so it could mean “and not” or “now not” (unlikely, though “now, not” might work with a nice pause for emphasis) or “yet not” or even “but not” (though usually something stronger is used for “but” than {de}.) Considering the way the rest of the sentence ended up translating out, I went with “and”, but “yet” would work okay contextually, too. (However there’s an important “but” coming up soon, so I didn’t want a weaker “but” like a “yet” in the foreground; “and” sounded smoother.) {monon} means “only” or “alone”. It could be put at the end of the whole phrase in English (for example “and not about ours alone”), but I wanted to emphasize it more and it sounds smoother (to my ear anyway) as an adverb to “not”; thus “not only”. I wouldn’t qualm putting it back toward the end, though (as all the translations I immediately have at hand prefer to do, by the way.)

{alla kai} – {alla} is the strongest way in Greek to say “but”; and when it’s followed by {kai}, especially with a recent {ou} and {monon} in the previous phrase, then we’re looking at one of those weird uses of {kai} as something other than a normal moderately strong conjunction: “but also”. So this second part of verse 2 is a “not only this but also that” comparison.

{peri holou tou kosmou} – “about” (duh); and the object of its preposition is not itself a prepositional phrase this time, possessive or otherwise. It’s only {holou tou kosmou}. {tou kosmou} is {ho kosmos} suffixed around to fit grammatically with {peri} (which in this case changes the “the” to another form): “about the cosmos”, or “universe” or “world” or “creation” (in the sense of artistic decoration; which for those who don’t know is why people who work on decorating the hair, face and hands etc. are called “cosmetologists”. It’s also where we get the word “cosmetic” from and some other terms of that sort referring to decoration. The Greeks applied that term as a flattering description of all reality, sometimes in the sense of being a real design of the gods or whatever, and sometimes in the sense modern atheists still like to talk of “design” in Nature, even though they don’t really mean “design”.) {holou}, meanwhile, is our English adjective “whole” without twenty centuries of spelling tweaks but with a local grammatic suffix. :mrgreen:

Thus my (previously unstated) rationale for the translation: “And He is a (or the) propitiation about our sins; and not only about ours, but about the whole world, too.” I could have used “also” up after “but”, instead of “too” at the end; or an “as well” at the end instead. In hindsight, maybe I should have done it that way for a little more fidelity to the word order in Greek; but I thought this might help highlight that the term at the end (so far as I can tell) isn’t “the whole world’s” but “the whole world”–which might, to be fair (I mean to non-universalists), be significant in comparison. (The Vine’s editors certainly think so, for example.)

I didn’t think so. {shrug} :slight_smile: I think I translated the sentence pretty faithfully.

Most of the translation is pretty straightforward; I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of variance between translations, except insofar as guesses about how to translate the unusual noun form of {hilas-} found here–which I thought I was pretty conservative about: all the other guys I’ve mentioned so far agree with “propitiation” except Knoch (whom, as the only avowed universalist of the bunch, you might have expected me to be ideologically preferential toward instead–though I’m not, for reasons I’ve now mentioned); and I even agree with them that “the” is intended before “propitiation” (though as a nod to people who might not agree I allowed “a” there instead and parenthesized my own preference).

The main sticking point is that I translate {peri} as “about”–which is what the word typically means–whereas a number of translators prefer “for” instead–which is not what the word typically means, and for which translation there isn’t any grounding in the surrounding context.

“but also about the whole world” may be unexpected, in that it doesn’t seem to parallel “not only about our sins”; but in fact that’s how the Greek reads. I think I end up treating it as though it reads “those (sins) of the whole world” or “the sins of the world world” anyway–which would annoy Vine’s and their Arminianistic application of the distinction. Nevertheless, the distinction is there, so I included it. I try to be fair that way. :slight_smile:

You never bothered to mention why you thought the sentence was now nonsense, the way I translated it, by the way; and I need dinner now. :smiley: So, since this comment is already way long, I’ll stop here for now and give you an opportunity to correct me on how the Greek should be translated instead and why–I’m far from being an expert at it, so I try to follow cues from people who know the language better.

I’ll get to your other remarks later, tomorrow I hope. Though relatedly:

A good thing I didn’t, then, hm! I think I was pretty consistent about how I did translate it (including in subsequent application), which was, “In this is love: not that we love God, but that He loves us and dispatches His Son a propitiation about our sins.”

You’re welcome to correct me on how the Greek should be translated there, too. Please be detailed. :slight_smile: Also, if you quote me on how I translated it, try to actually quote me next time instead of importing something similar to another translation I did as though that’s how I translated this verse, too.

(Admittedly, I do think God sent His Son “to atone all into Him” (as Col 1:20 puts it)–“all” including “us”–but that is not at all how I translated this verse. I didn’t even apply my translation of this verse that way. I don’t mind if you criticise how I translated and applied translation for 1 John 4:10, but claiming I “mangled” a translation by quoting me as though I translated that verse a substantially different way than I actually did, is not helpful.)

Surely The Son ‘recieves’ the wage not pays it? If He is standing in our place then the wages due to us are also due to Him. God must be the one ‘paying’ the wage?

Jeff (who has no Greek - Kyrie eleēson).

Hey Ran! Don’t hold back now - tell us what you really think. :smiley:

That’s a good question, because it highlights some of the scriptural problems with how we tend to use our analogical language. The Son always pays wages in scripture; He never receives them, including the wages of injustice or the ration of sin. In RevJohn (and in GosMatt, though the word ‘wage’ isn’t used there), the OT promise of YHWH coming to pay to every man his wage according to what he has done, for example, is applied to the Son: Jesus Christ is coming to pay every man his wage according to what he has done.

In that third kind of self-sacrificial death I was talking about, I was focusing on the voluntary action of the self-sacrifice of the Son. So “paying” would be the correct verb there, though the analogy I was actually thinking of was “paying for our sins”: the Father, in His love for us, requires it, so the Son would be paying that price to the Father (metaphorically speaking). But insofar as allows Himself and His grace to be abused by us as sinners (rather than just retracting His providential action from our continuing existence when we act against the fair-togetherness of God by which we and everything else exists at all, thus annihilating us as sinners or at least destroying us as people reducing us to mere puppets), then the Son could also be said to be receiving the wages of sin from us: as sinners we repay God’s providence by betraying and abusing Him, not because we have superior power but within God’s loving providence for us. By metonymy, the Son could be said to be receiving that wage from us, and paying (in the sense of rendering up or bringing) that wage of ours onward to the Father; much as the Son and the Spirit personally mediate between us and the person of the Father when we’re cooperating with God instead of acting treacherously against God.

Now, as I’ll repeat, this language doesn’t show up in scripture (so far as I’ve been able to find); but then, neither does the language of Christ receiving the wages of sin from the Father or anything like that either. However: the kind of unexpected wage-transfer I just mentioned (and mentioned more briefly in the comment you’re referencing) does fit in very well with the scriptural promises that “God” (the Father) and “Christ” (the Son) are coming to pay each man according to his work, re-paying good for good and even evil for evil–though the notions of ‘evil’ and ‘good’ here cannot mean ethical opposites (as God cannot do injustice or ethical evil and still continue to exist). The notions are more along the line of blessing and cursing, and the concept fits exactly in with the promise and warning (especially in the Gospels) that as we measure out so shall it be measured even moreso to us by God. If we are merciful, God will be merciful to us; if we are not merciful, God will not be merciful to us; if we forgive others their sins, God will forgive ours, and not if not; etc.

This connection isn’t terribly obvious, though (to say the least), so I don’t blame people for not noticing it.

That being said, I made a point in my very detailed exegesis of 1 John’s uses of {hilasmos}, of recognizing that Christ, our Advocate, is standing beside us facing the Father, receiving from the Father with us. In that sense the Son is also receiving our ‘wage’ from the Father with us. Not instead of us; and there is no schism being taught by John in either of his uses of the word, between the Father and the Son–not least because the Son is also the one on the throne of judgment judging us in our sins.

Oh, another curious thing about how the term ‘wage’ is used in regard to sin and injustice in the scriptures. That famous verse about “the wage of sin is death”, from Rom 6:23?

Well, although “wage” may not be a bad translation, it happens to be a rather different and much rarer word in the NT than the term {misthos} we usually translate “wage”. It’s actually {opso_nion}. Literally it means something like provision-purchase, but it was a technical term in Greek for provisions that weren’t in fact purchased or even earned! Rather it was used for provisions graciously provided for upkeep by the masters of those receiving the gift; we would say “ration” today. And that happens to be how it is used everywhere else in the NT, too, whenever it (rarely) occurs. John the Baptist tells soldiers that if they are to repent and be righteous, they should be satisfied with their rations (Luke 3:14); St. Paul, in rebuking the Corinthian congregation for suggesting that he is profiting from them, points out that he practically raids (or despoils) other congregations in order to dispense rations for them (2 Cor 11:8); making a similar point to them (earlier or later, 1 Cor 9:7), he defends his right to receive food and drink from them by appealing not only to analogies of eating from a planted vineyard, drinking (actually eating, as cheese) milk from a tended flock, eating threshed grain, but also soldiers at war receiving rations. “Who at any time is warring with (i.e. supplying) his own rations?”

While that last example may seem to us at first glance to involve capitalistic earning payback for work, culturally each of the examples actually refers to provisions made by owners for workers simply in order to keep on working. This wasn’t supposed to be counted as what the workers earned; but it was considered owed ethically to the workers, even to oxen (who are certainly not earning a wage!) for charity’s sake–as Paul immediately points out in 9:8-10a. “Does the Torah not also say these things?–for in the law of Moses it is written, ‘You shall not muzzle the threshing ox’. The care of God is not for oxen!–is He not undoubtedly saying this because of us? (Yes) because of us, for [various subsequent reasons].”

The same term (translated ration or rations) is used in each case; and it’s the same term used, rather unexpectedly (to say the least!), at 6:23: “For the ration of sin is death, yet the graciousness of God is life eonian, in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”

The difference this makes, depends on who is paying the ration. In Paul’s metaphorical context preceding this verse, it would be sin (not God) paying the ration to its slaves; thus deepening the irony of the rhetorical contrast in verse 23. The slaves deserve charity to live, but sin doesn’t give charity; it gives death. It is God Who gives graciously and what He gives is life eonian. Thus we should present the members of our body as slaves to Righteousness for holiness, rather than as slaves to Uncleanness and to Lawlessness for lawlessness. (v. 19).

On the other hand, ultimately it is God Who pays us (or repays us) our wage according to our sin. In that case, though, the term ‘ration’ should still be kept in the account: the One Who is Love may pay us death for sin, but it will be paid as a ration–meaning the intention and goal, even here, will be ultimately charity toward us.

It’s a reoccurring theme in the Bible that God is displeased and angry with our behavior. He sends prophets to tell us of his displeasure and they get murdered. Finally, he sends his only son and they murder him as well. After that murder, he’s really angry and levels Israel and Jerusalem in 70AD. No more temple, no more sacrifices. Judaism without a temple is like Christianity without Christ - bloodless surmises on the nature of God. i.e. Islam!

Is he still angry? No. Christ was THE sacrifice to take that anger away - his sacrifice is said to propitiate God (take his anger away at our sins by taking those sins away.)

If one doesn’t believe that Christ propitiated God, or worse, that he didn’t need to - then, so goes the argument, whatever mercy he shows us is because he is essentially and changelessly merciful. That’s a major shift in faith from Christ and his accomplishment to faith in a ‘principle.’

Of course, the problem with cherry picking one ‘essential’ over another misses the greater picture. So that the destruction of Jerusalem as ‘Christ’s vengeance’ (Luke 21.22) becomes…what? A non-essential in understanding God because in principle he cannot possibly be angry now? But what of then?

Jason’s argument seems to be that God was never really angry because ultimately he isn’t angry. I can think of only three possibilities:

  1. God was only kidding about being angry all along.

  2. Something happened to appease, atone, propitiate God’s anger.

3, God is still justly angry. (Dependent on what gospel HE believes)