Propitiation

“And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

Most of the words in the King James Bible are words of one or two syllables (our text verse, for example, has 21 such short words and only one big word; but that word, “propitiation,” has five syllables, and so has elicited much complaint from folks who don’t like to use dictionaries). What does “propitiation” mean?

The Greek word is hilasmos and occurs just two other times. These are as follows:

“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 3:25). “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 4:10).

As an aside, note that these two verses contain two words of two syllables, three of three syllables, and 48 of one syllable. But both also include “propitiation,” and that seems to be a problem. Nevertheless, “propitiation” is certainly the most accurate word to convey the meaning of the original. The dictionary gives “expiation” and “conciliation” as definitions, but that probably doesn’t help much.

In any case, the action of the Lord Jesus in submitting His body to be a substitutionary sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sins and to endure God’s wrath against all the sins of the world, thereby enabling Him to be reconciled to us, with Christ’s perfect righteousness credited to our account, is seen in these three verses to be a basic theme of this great truth of Christ’s propitiatory work on the cross. And surely, as John says: “Herein is love,” that God would so love us that He would offer up His Son, and Christ would so love us that He would die for us. Surely, this is love! HMM

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