|"If any man speak, let him
of God..." (I Peter 4:11)
by Garland M. Robinson
It is very interesting and beneficial to make a study of New Testament words. Much criticism
has come against the King James translation simply because people do not want to take a
moment of their time to look up a word in the dictionary. I cannot understand how anyone who
is interested in studying their Bible can criticize the KJV simply because of a few words they
may fail to understand (is not the same thing to be found in any other translation?).
Never-the-less, the purpose of this article is to acquaint us with the meaning of our English
word "propitiation." Some have dared to skip-over this word not being able to pronounce it.
Dear reader, if we skip-over this word, we have skipped -over the entire theme of the Bible! It
presents the salvation of man. Take a few minutes and leam what this word involves.
The word "propitiation" is pronounced pro-pish-e-a-shun. It means: "expiation (to make
amends), sin offering, a gift to procure expiation, the means of appeasing, an expiatory
sacrifice." The Greek word is hilasmos with another form of it being hilasterion. It is found four
times in the Greek New Testament: 1 John 2:2; 4:10; Romans 3:25; and Hebrews 9:5. In each
verse it is translated "propitiation" with the exception of Hebrews 9:25 where it is translated
We all certainly understand the principle involved in the meaning of this word. You probably
have even used it! Let me give you an illustration. A husband, after having a quarrel with his
wife, may present to her a bouquet of flowers as a gift in an effort to appease her anger. This
is in exchange for something else. This is propitiation.
We have an inspired record of this use of the word. In Numbers 16, upon the death of Koran,
Dathan, Abiram and the 250 princes of Israel, "...all the congregation of the children of Israel
murmured against Moses and Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the Lord." "And the
Lord spake unto Moses saying, Get you up from among this congregation, that I may
consume them as in a moment" (vs. 16,44-45). Upon this pronouncement of God's wrath,
Moses instructed Aaron to take a censer along with fire from the altar, put incense on it and
"go quickly unto the congregation, and make an atonement /or them: /or there is a turath gone
out from the Lord; and the plague is begun" (v.46). Aaron did as Moses had instructed him
and in verses 48 and 49 we read: "And he stood between the dead and the living; and the
plague was stayed. Now they that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seuen
hundred, beside them that died about the matter of Korah." When this incense was offered to
God, it was a propitiation. It appeased God's wrath.
The Lord Jesus Christ died on calvary as a propitiation. He shed his blood to appease God's
wrath and to satisfy God's justice. The Bible tells us that "all have sinned, and come short of
the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). "There is none righteous, no not one" (Romans 3:10). How
could a holy, just, jealous and wrathful God save men who are unholy, unjust and sinful? The
answer is propitiation. God's justice demands that we die for our sins, but Jesus died in our
stead. He died as a propitiation to satisfy God's justice.
PROPITIATION UNDER THE OLD TESTAMENT
The law received by Moses on Mt. Sinai instructed the Israelites to offer a continual burnt
offering. "Two lambs of the first year without spot day by day" (Numbers 28:3). There were
numerous other sacrifices made as well: the "meaf offering," "peace offering," "sin offering,"
"guilt offering," "wave offering," "heave offering," and the "drink offerings" [or libations]
(Leviticus chapters 2-7; Exodus 29; Numbers 15, 28). In Leviticus 16 we read of the annual
offering made for all the people by the high priest He was to first offer a young bullock for his
own sin. He was then to use two he-goats, one of which was to be sacrificed on behalf of the
people, and the other was to be used as a "scape goat." The high priest would lay his hands
on the head of the second goat, confess all the sins of the people, then send it away into the
When the Law of Moses was dedicated and sacrifices made, blood was shed. Hebrews
9:18-22 records, "Whereupon neither the .first testament was dedicated luithout blood. For
when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the
blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the
book, and all the people, Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined
unto you. Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the
ministry...and without shedding of blood is no remission." However, these sacrifices were only
temporary and could not take away sins.
"And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which
can never take away sins...For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should
take away sins" (Hebrews 10:11,4). These sacrifices existed only until Christ came.
What shall we do? We are still in our sins. God's justice demands that we die.
PROPITIATION UNDER THE NEW TESTAMENT
God has provided a way or means whereby he can save sinful man and still maintain his
holiness and justice without being inconsistent with his nature. God has offered us a
substitute. His only begotten Son, Jesus the Christ, died in our stead. What the blood of bulls
and goats could not do, the blood of Christ did. He was the perfect sacrifice. He redeemed us
from our sins with his own precious blood "as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1
Peter 1:18-19). "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ
Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his
righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God"
(Romans 3:24-25). Christ is our "mercy seat" (Hebrews 9:5) and "the propitiation for our sins:
and not for our's only, but also for the sins of the whole world." "Herein is love, not that we
loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John
2:2; 4:10). We read in 1 Corinthians 5:7 that Christ was slain and has redeemed us to God by
his blood (Revelation 5:9). "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness
of sins..." (Ephesians 1:7). "Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he
entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us." "So Christ was
once offered to bear the sins of many. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering
of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." "But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for
sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God." "For by one offering he hath perfected for
ever them that are sanctified" (Hebrews 9:12,28; 10:10, 12,14).
Can we now appreciate more fully what Christ has done for us? There was no other way to
redeem man than for God's justice to be carried out. His wrath was appeased by the death of
his Son. Christ was slain in our place. It was Jesus who said, "/ am come that they might have
life..." (John 10:10). It was Jesus who died as the propitiatory sacrifice to ransom us from sin.
There was no other way.