Is Jesus the Believer’s Mercy Seat? -- By: H. Framer Smith

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 102:407 (Jul 1945)
Article: Is Jesus the Believer’s Mercy Seat?
Author: H. Framer Smith


Is Jesus the Believer’s Mercy Seat?

H. Framer Smith, D.D.

Mercy seat (including mercyseat and mercy seatward) occur twenty-seven times in the Authorized Version, once in the New Testament, the remaining times in the Old. The original Hebrew word is kappô̄reth, the Greek, hilastērion. The latter occurs a second time in the New Testament as the original Greek word for propitiation (Rom 3:25). Another Greek word, hilasmos, is twice translated “propitiation” in the Authorized Version (1 John 2:2, 4:10). Both of these terms are derived from hilaskomai, itself found twice in the New Testament (Luke 18:13, rendered “be merciful”; Heb 2:17, rendered “make reconciliation for”). Out of these facts the questions arise: How is the meaning of mercy seat affected by its relation to the three words of the original Hebrew and Greek? Are the two Greek words for it identical in meaning? If not, what is the difference between them? in what sense or senses is hilastērion-hilasmos related to kappô̄reth in meaning? And since three of the four New Testament references relate to the Lord Jesus Christ, in what sense is He the mercy seat?

These questions are in no sense rhetorical. Semitic and Hellenistic philologists are at opposite poles in their answers to the queries. We cite but several authorities to show this. Charles Hodge marshals the findings of these scholars into three schools of interpretation. Of the one of interest to our inquiry he says: “The ground of this interpretation is that the original word here used [hilastērion] is employed in the Septuagint as the designation of the ‘mercy seat.’ …The meaning would then be ‘that God hath set forth Jesus Christ as a mercy seat, as the place in which or the Person in whom

He was propitiated, and ready to forgive and accept the sinner.’ But the objections to this interpretation are serious.” Hermann Cremer, to Greifswald University what Hodge was to Princeton Seminary, sponsors the very interpretation to which Hodge objects. His Biblico-Theological Lexicon entitles him to speak both as theologian and philologist. Discussing kappô̄reth and

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