The Person and Work of Christ Part X: Propitiation -- By: John F. Walvoord

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 119:474 (Apr 1962)
Article: The Person and Work of Christ Part X: Propitiation
Author: John F. Walvoord

The Person and Work of Christ
Part X:

John F. Walvoord

Propitiation is the biblical doctrine embodying the concept that the death of Christ fully satisfied the demands of a righteous God in respect to judgment upon the sinner. The doctrine is not found with great frequency in the New Testament, the word propitiation appearing only three times in the Authorized Version (Rom 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10) and four times in the American Standard Version (Heb 2:17 added). One might be misled into the unwarranted assumption that this is a minor doctrine of the New Testament. A closer study, however, reveals four different Greek words related to this subject and a number of other passages where the idea is contained in the thought.

The four New Testament words related to this doctrine are all of the same root. The verb ἱλάσκομαι is used in Luke 18:13 in the prayer of the publican, which translated literally reads: “God, be propitiated for me, the sinner.” Hebrews 2:17 refers to Christ becoming our High Priest “to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” The noun form ἱλαστήριον, one of the most important references, is translated “a propitiation” in Romans 3:25 and “the mercy seat” in Hebrews 9:5. Another noun form ἱλασμός occurs twice (1 John 2:2; 4:10) in both of which passages it is stated that Christ is “the propitiation for our sins.” A fourth word ἵλεως is found in Matthew 16:22 in relation to the idiom of Peter: “Be it far from thee, Lord,” and in Hebrews 8:12 where it is translated “merciful.” Neither of these two instances apply directly to the doctrine of propitiation in Christ.

The doctrine of propitiation in theology has been complicated, first, by disagreement as to its actual meaning, i.e., does it mean (1) to expiate, (2) to reconcile, or (3) to satisfy? Modern writers have tended to dispute the traditional orthodox interpretation of the doctrine of propitiation by affirming

that a loving God does not need the death of ...

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