The Evangelical Universalist Forum

What does propitiation mean?

This made me ask myself, what does propitiation mean??

How certain are we that it means “bearing the wrath of God”?

Unfortunately, this verse is the only place the underlying Greek word appears. A similar Greek word, which is also usually translated propitiation, only appears in:

I looked it up

it means an atonement

so 1 John 2:2 could read like this

He is the atonement (payment) for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

A couple of years ago (back in Sept of 2009) I wrote a huge study on this topic for the forum, examining every NT occurrence I could find of {hilas-} and its cognates, as well as the term translated “atonement” or “reconciliation” and its cognates.

Commentary on NT usage of “propitiate” (JRP) – that’s the propitiation study.

Commentary on NT usage of “atone”/“reconcile” (JRP) – and here’s the atonement/reconciliation study.

The short answer is that Douglas Wilson is galactically wrong about what the term means and how it is used in the NT. :wink:

I wonder if it’s even correct to say atonement is payment.

Alex, so much of that initial quote seems so misguided to me.

If this is his premise he builds on, is this even right? Looking up wrath on biblegateway now… It says God’s wrath is on those that are disobedient, that we are saved from God’s wrath through Jesus, Jesus rescues us from wrath, but how seems like the million dollar question. No where, that I can see, does it say God puts his wrath on Jesus. I think they read this into the texts in places like Isaiah 53:

We considered him punished by God, but was he? The but would not make sense here.

Is this the same as bearing God’s wrath? I don’t think so. And how it says yet right after this, “yet we considered him punished by God.” Yet doesn’t make sense if the he bore our pain and suffering was God’s wrath. It’s as if to say what he bore was as a result of our doing, not God’s, though I know it pleased God for Him to offer himself for our sake. Perhaps vs. 3 clarifies, “3 He was despised and rejected by mankind.” Was he despised and rejected by God? It was we that despised Him.

What does it mean that the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. For me, it means that he willingly handed his Son over to us, to evil men to kill him, for our sake. Our sin kills Jesus because we’ve each turned our own way.

Who was oppressing and afflicting Jesus? Who were the shearers? I think we were even though it was God’s plan for Jesus to lay down His life for us. It’s God’s plan for all of us to lay down our lives for others.

But why? Because God’s sense of justice was satisfied in Jesus being beat? I don’t think so. It’s also God’s will for us to suffer in doing good for others and to make our lives an offering.

He bore our sin, not God’s wrath.

Just my 2 cents, but I think we are misunderstanding what is going on here with Jesus serving as a sin offering, giving His life up to bring us to God. It’s ultimately our sin, hostility, that is an obstacle for coming to God, not God’s hostility toward us that he is satisfied with putting wrath on Jesus. He is satisfied with Jesus’ sacrifice because it is a demonstration of his love, not wrath, and deals with our sin in such a way that we seek God - what he really wants. It’s never been blood that he’s after. We need reconciling to Him and not Him to us. I’m feeling more and more disturbed with penal substitution these days. Feels like another dark doctrine that’s made it’s way in the back door.

Looking forward, Jason, to reading your stuff.

I was also just remembering that people think God put his wrath on Jesus because Jesus says, “Father why have you forsaken me?” But had God really forsaken him? Or was he not feeling this way as he bear the brunt of all our sin?

Thanks Amy. It’s hard tricky stuff, especially trying to come to the passage without preconceived theology :neutral_face:

This popped into my head, although I don’t know if it helps :confused:

No, otherwise, Jesus would have instantly vaporised :astonished: i.e. God always sustains all things.

Amy, I fully agree with your reading of Isaiah 53. There was an interesting post and discussion thread on this over at Derek Flood’s blog in June last year
Penal substitution comes from the same stable as the doctrine of ECT and is suspect for many of the same reasons. The most obvious criticism of it is that it has God needing to be reconciled to us, whereas the Bible only ever speaks of us needing to be reconciled to God.

Btw, I agree with Amy that the point to Isaiah’s Suffering Servant is that he (and/or He) is struck by our sin and our wrath, not by the wrath of God.

Also, aside from pointing out the ultimately hopeful context of Psalm 22 against the feeling of despair in the first verse (and the whole scene in the Synoptics there explicitly concerns the context of Psalm 22, not simply the first verse): had the Father really abandoned the Son (not even counting schisming the Trinity there, which would have led to more than only Jesus poofing out of existence–it would have meant all of reality, including our system of Nature, past present and future poofing out of existence), there would have been no resurrection.

Relatedly, penal substitution atonement theory only has a chance of making theological sense on its own ground, if the Son bears the full punishment of all sinners (as everyone agrees, Calv Arm or Kath, whether they accept penal-sub or not); but if the full and “just” punishment of sinners really is ECT, then Christ should have been hopelessly condemned to ECT! But obviously this didn’t happen. Or, Christ should have been hopelessly condemned to annihilation! But obviously that didn’t happen either.

Revdrew61, I remember seeing that link you mention on Isaiah 53. Loved it! I’m sure that’s why I was able to recall so quickly how we’ve misunderstood the passage. I think Alex should read that. It’s better written.

That is a really revealing verse!

Hebrews Ch. 9 is a chapter that talks a lot about the blood and we need to understand why the blood. This verse captures well for me the purpose of Jesus spilling his blood, so that our consciences are cleansed from acts that lead to death and we serve God. God actually cares to take away our sin and not the wrath despite continued sin. And other passages seem to indicate that we are in danger of wrath if we continue sinning.

The blood of bulls and goats, which we are told is impossible to take away sin, made people outwardly clean. But, since sin originates in the heart Jesus cleans us inwardly by changing our heart. Why are we sprinkled with His blood? The blood is for us, not to appease God’s wrath. And it would seem it’s to change us, make us inwardly clean so that we can obey from the heart and fulfill God’s command to love. The blood changes something in us, not God.

Thanks Andrew, I’ll read that :slight_smile: I totally agree with our need to be reconciled to God, not God to us.

Thanks Jason, both for pointing out that given Jesus is God, everything would’ve ceased to exist if the God had abandoned God. Also the excellent point that if the Just punishment for sin is really ECT, Jesus should still be stuck in Hell!!!

Thanks Amy for pointing out Hebrews 9:14, that helps a lot :sunglasses:

Andrew, I know you don’t believe in PSA so how do you understand Rom. 3:25 , “because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” I think this part of the vs. leads people to believe that God was punishing our sin by taking it out on Jesus. I’ve heard it said before that God had not dealt with turning people from their sin to the point of shedding his own blood. ??? What do you make of it?

Amy, Derek Flood tackles exactly those verses in his latest post over at . I’m being a bit lazy at the end of a long day - but Derek explains it much better than I can! Basically he shows from the context how Paul is contrasting God’s restorative justice with the retributive violence that Paul (Saul!) and the rest of us typically engage in. God has refused to engage in retribution and now shows us the better way.

Amy, I know you didn’t address this to me, but for what it’s worth I’d like to throw in my recent thoughts. :slight_smile:

I see a lot of sense in what Jason says (in his linked study) about what “propitiation” means in the Bible. (Although, on a side note, Jason, I question the logic of saying, “if the full and “just” punishment of sinners really is ECT, then Christ should have been hopelessly condemned to ECT.” Wouldn’t an easy ECT answer be along the lines of, “The just punishment of an infinite sin (a finite being insulting an infinitely holy God) is eternal torment. But because of the infinite value of his sacrifice, Jesus had to spend only a finite amount of time in torment to satisfy God’s wrathful desire for eternal suffering.” Thoughts?)

Romans 3:25 is traditionally interpreted to mean that humans owe God for their sins, or that God’s justice demands some kind of payment from humans, on account of their sins. Until the time that Christ actually made the payment to God, God just graciously considered that payment rendered already.

There seems to be an alternate way of understanding it, though. What if (as JP mentions) we humans need the propitiation? In other words, we need the deliverance from our sins and the consequences thereof (ie, death). God’s “forbearance,” then, is not in the sense of looking forward to the payment of Christ, but looking forward to Christ’s delivering action. This gives God reason to keep us from experiencing the full effects of our sin. I feel like God is looking for excuses to do us good, and He finds it in the sacrifice and victory of Christ. Post-incarnation, Paul can say in Romans 3:25, “Now we know why God had a gracious attitude toward our ancestors–He was looking ahead to Christ’s taking care of sin and death once and for all at the cross! Now we can understand this and clearly share this good news with others!” I see a similar attitude in 2 Cor. 5:19–God is not counting mankind’s sins against us, because of Christ’s work.

That’s my general comment on the verse. Specifically on the word “punish,” though, (and I think this gets into my recent thoughts towards a non-violent atonement, or at least non-PSA) in order to “fix” the violence of rebellion (ie sin and death), someone has to “swallow up” both the rebellion and its consequences (cf 1 Cor 15:54). Really, only a God-man could do that. God’s justice and wrath is satisfied by Jesus’ sacrifice, but not necessarily in our retributive-justice sense of punishment. Evil is never defeated by beating on people who’ve done evil things. Someone needs to step in and make the choice to absorb the evil and overcome it with love. Someone had to be “punished,” at least in the sense of “take a momentous beating,” to deal with our rebellion, and only God could do that for all humankind. (Oh the depths of the grace and the love of God!) :open_mouth:

So that’s my recent thoughts on it. :slight_smile:

The are a couple of issues with that answer (Robin, TotalVictory & Jason discussed it: GM: The revelation of eschatological wrath at Calvary (RFC)). One is that if that’s the case, Christ could have just suffered on the Cross for a nanosecond, and that would have done the trick i.e. why drag it out for 3 days!

Thanks for pointing me to that discussion, Alex! I really like TotalVictory’s explanation on that thread.

I agree about the arbitrary choice of 3days/3nights on the cross–why drag it out any longer than necessary? Was it really that important to fulfill the “sign of Jonah,” for example? :open_mouth: :laughing:

Two infinite ‘weights’ either cancel one another out or leave an infinite value left over. Infinity laid against infinity either equals zero or equals infinity.

So either the infinite value of Jesus’ sacrifice still leaves over the infinite wrath of God, in which case Jesus should still have been punished (unjustly so, but justly, but innocently so unjustly etc.!) with ECT or anni; or the merest singularity of Jesus’ (unjust but just but unjust) punishment was sufficient to satisfy “God’s” infinite desire for eternal suffering (whether that desire was the Father’s alone or also the Son’s or whatever), in which case there would have been no crucifixion and indeed no suffering of punishment perceptible to any human any way at any time.

Trying to apply the process as a math operation of infinites is no doubt a category error anyway. But if the penal-sub advocate insists on going that route, the expected result either way still doesn’t match what actually happened.

Jason, I agree with everything you said. :mrgreen: I wasn’t saying that God NEEDS reasons (or grounds) to do us good, but, because he’s predisposed to do us good, from my human perspective he’s looking for openings to exercise that goodness in my life. In other words, he loves to use every opportunity to reveal his goodness toward us. I was thinking of the principle revealed in 2 Sam 14:14: “Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.” God is constantly devising ways to be good to us.

So one of Paul’s main points in Rom 3:21-26 is that God has finally revealed to us the means by which he justifies (or makes things right): the sacrifice of Christ. For those of us who don’t completely understand the awesome implications of ortho-trin thought (such as the OT Hebrews), until we see the deliverance of God manifest in Christ’s work (our propitiation), we don’t know how it is that God can treat us better than we “deserve” (ie, not letting us fully reap the consequences of our rebellion). I think it’s like an inductive argument, though: here’s Christ and his work, so we can reason back to God’s inherent “fair-togetherness” and desire to bring us into that fair-togetherness. So I agree with you, but maybe from a different angle. :wink:

I’d be interested in reading your thoughts (exegetical or otherwise) on Romans 3. :slight_smile:

Hi Neal, was meaning to get back to this discussion and got overwhelmed other places, plus have been battling a really nasty flu. Now, thankfully we are about to take off for Big Bear. I’m glad you jumped into this discussion, btw.

I noticed you were asking Jason about his view of Rom. 3. Have you had a chance to read this blog already? … It’s all about Romans 3. … stice.html I think it was recommended by Andrew earlier in this post. I just now got to reading it and it really has me thinking more than any of Derek’s other articles. If you would, read it and tell me if it makes any sense to you.

Will be back in 2 days. Look forward to seeing ya all when I return. :stuck_out_tongue:

Somehow, I didn’t read this thread, but I will now attempt to answer the question which the title indicates:

“Propitiation” means “appeasement”. The Oxford Dictionary gives as the meaning of the verb “propitiate” as:

—The Oxford Dictionary

The concept of propitiation fits the theological view that Christ died in order to appease the wrath of an angry God, so that He will not send people to hell, that Christ took our punishment for sin, so that we could not have to be punished.

This is NOT the meaning of the Greek words so translated.The words are “ἱλασμος” (hilasmos) and “ἱλαστηριον” (hilastārion).

Some translations, e.g., the Revised Standard Version renders the word as “expiation”. Expiation is the act of making amends for wrongdoing. This translation would fit the view that Christ by his death somehow made amends for our wrongdoing so that we wouldn’t have to be punished. The word “atonement” has basically the same meaning. Suppose you felled a tree in your yard and it fell across my fence and broke it. I might say to you, “You’re going to have to atone for that.” What do I mean? I mean that you’re going to have to repair my fence.

Actually, I dont think the word means “expiation” or “atonement” either.

I quote from a book which I began writing, entitled: The Supreme Sacrifice of Jesus Christ

Hello, I don’t know what the custom is on this delightful board concerning resurrecting delightful threads from antiquity, but this post is simply immense! Reading this afternoon the connections between hilasmos, hilasterion, and mercy, reaching down (even ‘choosing’ perhaps), and rendering pleasing is an incredible vision of the way things should have been, and a great indictment of the theology I have lived hitherto! thank you [tag]Paidion[/tag] and all at this wonderful forum. It makes me weep that I was not led here in my conversion years, but simultaneously bless the Providence of the Good Shepherd, who orders all things for His Glory and our blessedness!