The Funny Thing About Propitiation

Screenshot 2014-03-29 at 8.48.08 PM“Propitiation means the turning away of wrath by an offering. In relation to soteriology, propitiation means placating or satisfying the wrath of God by the atoning sacrifice of Christ.” Charles C. Ryrie

One of things I like about the ESV is that it doesn’t necessarily do away with all of the old sounding words. Some words, like propitiation, are good words to use and the modern reader may need to look up a definition or two as necessary. The KJV uses propitiation three times, once in Romans and twice in 1 John. The NIV does not use this word all, in the case of Romans 3:25 calling Christ the “sacrifice of atonement.”

I do not rely on any one translation of scripture. The original texts were written in Hebrew and Greek, which very few of even the most devoted scholars learn to read (both). When really studying the meaning of a verse or passage, I find reading from several translations helpful. Here’s what I discovered tonight while so doing with propitiation. The King James uses the word three times; the New KJV and ESV Bibles contain the same word four times. “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:17 ESV) The KJV uses reconciliation in this verse.

We are reconciled to God because he made Christ our atoning sacrifice. The truth of the Gospel message does not change even as languages do. The sad fact is that English is not the best language when it comes to expressing what we mean precisely. I’m not trying to say anything in this post other than I found it interesting. Consider the fourth horse described in Revelation 6. The King James, as does the ESV, describes the horse as pale. Back in college, my first experience with any Bible not KJV was a New Revised Standard that I bought containing the Apocrapha. The NRSV describes the fourth horse as pale green, implying it was in sickly condition. The rider of the fourth horse is Death, and hell follows with him, striking a fourth of the world’s population with sword, famine, pestilence and wild beasts. Venturing into the Greek language, the suggestion in Rev 6:8 is that the color of the horse indicated physical illness. It’s a sick sort of pale, not just lightly colored. A fact one would miss if sticking to one’s favorite pet version of scripture. (Is NRSV anyone’s favorite?)

The Word of God is forever established in heaven; I do not believe that verse refers to any of the English translations. Anything interesting you’d like to share? Please do so in the comments.

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4 thoughts on “The Funny Thing About Propitiation

  1. Where I once may have relied on a good concordance and Bible dictionary, the proliferation of the internet can put the resources of entire libraries at everyone’s fingertips. I can do more at Biblegateway in 30 minutes than spending an hour or two with a stack of Bibles and reference books. The Scofield Reference Bible filled a void back in it’s day as C.I. Scofield spent hours and hours doing research the hard way in order to compile his center column references and footnotes. The average reader can do in a few clicks what he traveled the globe to do back in his day.

  2. “Propitiation means the turning away of wrath by an offering.”

    Which is why it shouldn’t be used. Its a lying Calvinist word. The word being translated as “propitiation” should just be translated “sacrifice of atonement” or some such that doesn’t inject the devil-god of Calvinism drooling to broil people in hell for the sin of one man 6000 years ago into the text.

  3. God hates sin. He promised to punish sin. Each one of us remains subject to God’s wrath not for Adam’s sin 6,000 years ago, but according to Romans 3:23 “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Jesus died as an all sufficient sacrifice, and as a non-Calvinist I believe the opportunity to accept that and ask forgiveness is offered to everyone. But, Calvinist or not, what each of us deserves is hell for our own sins. God’s wrath toward sin was poured out on Jesus at the crucifixion, so the penalty for sin, namely death, has been satisfied and we can receive the reward for the sinless obedience of Jesus during his lifetime.

    Our nature is sinful, but it is not the sin of Adam for which any person will condemned. Not one person, outside of Jesus himself, has lived a sinless life. Each stands condemned for his own sin; God went to great lengths, namely to the cross, to make salvation possible. These are not Calvinist teachings but rather what all Christians believe.

  4. “And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to COME.” (1 Thessalonians 1:10)

    Calvinism sees God’s wrath as a continual present, or worse, as God’s ontological being: “God is wrath.”

    As such, their notion of atonement is entirely foreign to the Scriptures since their notion of wrath is not “the wrath to come” at all, but is a sort of Marcionite caricature of the OT God as a being of ontological wrath. For this reason, the word “propitiation” is to be avoided for it evokes a Marcionite notion of a god of ontological wrath who must be appeased by an enemy, Christ the good guy sticking it to the Father the bad guy, RATHER than the loving Father sending Christ to provide the atonement and save from not present wrath, but the wrath to come.

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