Jesus As The Mercy Seat: The Semantics And Theology Of Paul’s Use Of “Hilasterion” In Romans 3:25 -- By: Daniel P. Bailey

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 51:1 (NA 2000)
Article: Jesus As The Mercy Seat: The Semantics And Theology Of Paul’s Use Of “Hilasterion” In Romans 3:25
Author: Daniel P. Bailey


Jesus As The Mercy Seat:
The Semantics And Theology Of Paul’s Use Of “Hilasterion” In Romans 3:251

Daniel P. Bailey

Interpreters of Romans 3:25 and 4 Maccabees 17:22 (codex S) commonly base their conclusions about ἱλαστήριον upon the immediate literary context coupled with vague notions of Jewish sacrifice and of the verbs ἱλάσκεσθαι and ἐξιλάσκεσθαι. Instead, scholars should consider the more important linguistic evidence, namely, the concrete, non-metaphorical uses of the substantive ἱλαστήριον in other ancient sources. They should be wary of investing ἱλαστήριον with meanings that are otherwise unattested (even though they may make sense in Romans or 4 Maccabees) and of paralleling Romans and 4 Maccabees prematurely. Only concrete, inanimate referents of this term are actually found in the other ancient sources; a ἱλαστήριον is always a thing—never an idea or an action or an animal. This suggests that the uses of ἱλαστήριον in Romans 3:25 and 4 Maccabees 17:22 are metaphorical, while further exegesis shows that the two metaphors must be distinct, reflecting two different concrete uses of the term.

Unfortunately, past studies of ἱλαστήριον have often allowed theological considerations to overshadow lexicography. Hence it was the doctrine of propitiation rather than the actual occurrences of the term ἱλαστήριον in ancient sources that dominated the English-language discussion of Romans 3:25 in the twentieth century. C.H. Dodd reacted against this doctrine and argued that the root idea behind Paul’s use of ἱλαστήριον was one of expiation (of sin) rather than propitiation (of God). But Dodd based his study not on ἱλαστήριον itself but on the use of the verb ἱλάσκεσθαι and its cognates in the Septuagint. The result was an over-emphasis on verb-based notions of a theological function, whether the propitiating of God or the expiating of sin, with too little attention to the concrete

referents of the term ἱλα...

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