ἱλάσκεσθαι: To Propitiate Or To Expiate? -- By: James E. Allman

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 172:687 (Jul 2015)
Article: ἱλάσκεσθαι: To Propitiate Or To Expiate?
Author: James E. Allman


ἱλάσκεσθαι: To Propitiate Or To Expiate?

James E. Allman

James E. Allman is Professor of Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.

Abstract

Evangelical discussions of ἱλάσκεσθαι tend to distinguish expiation, said to have a human focus, from propitiation, said to have a divine focus. This article responds to gaps in the major studies on ἱλάσκεσθαι by taking a fresh look at the English term “expiation” and the ἱλασκ- word group in both sacrificial and nonsacrificial contexts in the LXX and NT. The study finds that expiation and propitiation are bound up in each other: God’s merciful nature offers propitiation as a means of escaping his wrath by cleansing its cause. Expositors must be sensitive to a broader range of ideas represented by the ἱλασκ- word group.

Since at least the days of Socinus1 the meaning of the word group surrounding the verb ἱλάσκομαι has been under debate. Traditionally translators gloss the word as “propitiate.” But especially since C. H. Dodd’s 1931 article, “ΙΛΑΣΚΕΣΘΑΙ, Its Cognates, Derivatives, and Synonyms, in the Septuagint,”2 the debate has continued, and his argument has exerted strong influence on New Testament scholarship.3 Major evangelical responses came

from Roger Nicole and Leon Morris.4 In these circles Morris has great influence. Indeed, in such circles it is common to distinguish the two ideas sharply by saying expiation focuses on humanity or on sin while propitiation focuses on God. Gomes explains, “Expiation [is] something that removes the barrier of sin. Specifically, expiation ‘implies the obliteration of sin through Christ’s atoning death’ (J. M. Gundry-Volf . . .). It can denote the cognate ideas of purgation, cleansing, etc. It is similar to propitiation, though in propitiation the emphasis is on the satisfaction of God’s wrath against sin.”5 Pentecost can say, “When we come to consider this third great doctrinal word, propitiation, we are studying the God-ward aspect of the value of the death of Christ. While redemption was sinward, and reconciliation was manward, propitiation gives to us the third, or the God-ward aspect of the...

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