Propitiation – definition

Correctly understanding these terms leads to a better
understanding of the character of God and the Gospel.

Propitiation is very misunderstood in Christianity. God does not need to be appeased by requiring payment of penalties for sin.

Traditional Legal Model: – the satisfaction of God’s wrath and justice by the death of His Son Who died in our place to pay the penalty we deserved.

Biblical Healing Model:  – the symbolic place (the mercy seat of the ark) where God offers mercy. God does not require propitiation as commonly-understood.

Modern Dictionary Definition

Propitiation (noun)

the act of propitiating; conciliation: the propitiation of the wrathful gods.

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

Propitiation (noun)

2.In theology, the atonement or atoning sacrifice offered to God to assuage his wrath and render him propitious to sinners. Christ is the propitiation for the sins of men. Romans 3:25. 1 John 2:2.

Propitiation Misunderstood

Here is one (unbiblical) understanding of propitiation:

“What is Propitiation?

Propitiation is a big word that means satisfaction. Because God is a holy God, His anger and justice burns against sin. And He has sworn that sin will be punished.

There must be a satisfactory payment for sin. But God said, “If I punish man for his sin, man will die and go to hell. On the other hand, if I don’t punish man for his sin, My justice will never be satisfied.”

The solution? God said that He would become our substitute. He would take the sin of mankind upon Himself in agony and blood—a righteous judgment and substitute for sin.”

That description wrongly portrays God as having such anger  at sin that He sacrifices Himself in order to satisfy His own standard of justice because He has determined that all sin must receive punishment. With all three terms so badly misunderstood in relation to God, it is no wonder such weird logic came about. It describes God as unable to forgive unless He sees blood – and that is supposed to move us to love Him? There is something wrong with that! See the three pages linked to above and then consider the Biblical and original meaning of “propitiation.”

Here are the only three uses of “propitiation” in the KJV:

“Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation (G2435) through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” (Rom 3:25-26)

“And he is the propitiation (G2434) for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation (G2434) for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

As we will see, this is a very poor word to use to translate the original Greek.

Here are the definitions given for the Greek words used for propitiation:

Original Word Definitions

G2434 ἱλασμός hilasmos hil-as-mos’
a root word; n m;
AV-propitiation 2; 2
1) an appeasing, propitiating
2) the means of appeasing, a propitiation

G2435 ἱλαστήριον hilasterion hil-as-tay’-ree-on
from a derivative of G2433; n n;
AV-propitiation 1, mercyseat 1; 2
1) relating to an appeasing or expiating, having placating or expiating force, expiatory; a means of appeasing or expiating, a propitiation
1a) used of the cover of the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies, which was sprinkled with the blood of the expiatory victim on the annual day of atonement (this rite signifying that the life of the people, the loss of which they had merited by their sins, was offered to God in the blood as the life of the victim, and that God by this ceremony was appeased and their sins expiated); hence the lid of expiation, the propitiatory
1b) an expiatory sacrifice
1c) an expiatory victim

Since G2435 comes from G2433 we should look at that word:

2433 ἱλάσκομαι hilaskomai hil-as’-kom-ahee
middle voice from the same as 2436; v;
AV-be merciful 1, make reconciliation 1; 2
1) to render one’s self, to appease, conciliate to one’s self
1a) to become propitious, be placated or appeased
1b) to be propitious, be gracious, be merciful
2) to expiate, make propitiation for

There is only one other verse that uses “hilasterion” (G2435):

“And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; (G2435) of which we cannot now speak particularly.” (Heb 9:5)

That verse suggests that “hilasterion” is a place where mercy is given – quite different from the usual meaning of propitiation.

Please click below to listen to this very good audio description (3 min) of the true meaning of “propitiation:”

So, if that word had been used in Romans 3:25, would that give the verse a different meaning?

“Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation mercy seat …”

 It literally means “a place or means of reconciliation, a place where atonement or unity and at-one-ment takes place.”

The only two verses that use “hilaskomai” (G2433) are:

“And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful (G2433) to me a sinner.” (Luke 18:13)

“Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for (G2433) the sins of the people.” (Heb 2:17)

Those verses do not suggest anything like propitiation. What are the effects of the translation of a word meaning mercy seat as propitiation? They can’t be good.

Where did the Concept of Propitiation Come From?

Many (if not all) pagan cultures embrace the concept of propitiation and appeasement. Here is another example of modern misunderstanding:

“… Propitiation is an ancient word, which we as Christians have in common with other world religions. To propitiate a god is to offer a sacrifice that turns aside the god’s wrath. Anyone who believes in a god knows that they need some way to stay on the friendly side of that god. So they give gifts to the god, or serve in the temple, or give alms. And if the god is angry with them, they pay a price, or make a sacrifice, or find some way to soothe the god’s anger: they propitiate him.”


Do we really need a way to stay on the friendly side of God? What about “God is love”?

Here are verses using “propitiation” (in the KJV) as rendered in The Remedy NT:

“God presented Jesus as the way and the means of restoration. Now, through the trust established by the evidence of God’s character revealed when Christ died, we may partake of the Remedy procured by Christ. God did this to demonstrate that he is right and good — because in his forbearance he suspended, for a time, the ultimate consequence of us being out of harmony with his design for life — yet he has been falsely accused of being unfair. 26 He did it to demonstrate at the present time how right and good he is, so that he would also be seen as being right when he heals those who trust in Jesus.” (Rom 3:25-26, The Remedy New Testament)

“He is the reconciling Remedy to the infection of selfishness and fear, and not just for our terminal condition: he is also the Remedy–freely available–to heal the entire world.” (1 John 2:2, The Remedy New Testament)

“This is what real love is: It is not that we have loved God, or that we have done something to get him to love us, but that he loved us so much that he sent his Son to become the Remedy and cure for the infection of sin and selfishness so that through him we might be restored into perfect unity with God.” (1 John 4:10, The Remedy New Testament)

See a video of a group study on the Biblical meaning of propitiation.

Return to the Character of God and the Gospel Glossary Index

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