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Monday
Nov102008

Theological Term of the Week

Moving on to terms having to do with Christ’s work.

propitiation
a sacrifice that satisfies the wrath of God and thus averts God’s wrath toward sinners.

  • From scripture:
    …God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:25 ESV)
  • From the Belgic Confession, Article 21:

    We believe that Jesus Christ is a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek— made such by an oath— and that he presented himself in our name before his Father, to appease his wrath with full satisfaction by offering himself on the tree of the cross and pouring out his precious blood for the cleansing of our sins, as the prophets had predicted.

    For it is written that “the chastisement of our peace” was placed on the Son of God and that “we are healed by his wounds.” He was “led to death as a lamb”; he was “numbered among sinners” and condemned as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, though Pilate had declared that he was innocent.

  • From The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance by Leon Morris, page 151:
    The trouble is that nobody seems to have been able to make propitiation simple. To most of us the term is just plain incomprehensible. Accordingly, it does not seem to matter much what it means and the result is a pronounced disinclination to make the effort needed to see whether anything much is at stake. But there is in fact quite a lot at stake; the concept is important for biblical religion. So, if we are serious about our Christianity, we must at least make the effort to attempt to understand it.
    …[I]f we speak of propitiation, we are thinking of a personal process. We are saying that God is angry when people sin and that, if thay are to be forgiven, something must be done about that anger. We are saying further that the death of Christ is the means of removing the divine wrath from sinners. The issue is far from being superficial.
    We may perhaps feel that ‘propitiation’ is not a good word. It is a long word, a word which most of us rarely use, which many of us do not understand…. It is natural that translators often feel that it should be replaced by something more intelligible. I go along with this, with the sole proviso that the essential meaning of the term must be preserved. My quarrel with almost all modern translations is that they do not retain the essential meaning; specifically, they adopt some rendering that glosses over the wrath of God. But this is a very important concept…, and it cannot be ignored in any satisfying understanding of the work of Christ.
  • From The Atonement by John Murray:
    The disposition to deny or even underrate the doctrine of propitiation betrays a bias that is prejudicial to the atonement as such. The atonement means that Christ bore our sins and in bearing sin bore its judgment (cf. Isa. 53:5). Death itself is the judgment of God upon sin (cf. Rom. 5:12; 6:23). And Christ died for no other reason than that death is the wages of sin. But the epitome of the judgment of God upon sin is His wrath. If Jesus in our place met the whole judgment of God upon our sin, He must have endured that which constitutes the essence of this judgment How superficial is the notion that the vicarious endurance of wrath is incompatible with the immutable love of the Father to Him! Of course, the Father loved the Son with unchangeable and infinite love. And the discharge of the Father’s will in the extremities of Gethsemane’s agony and the abandonment of Calvary elicited the supreme delight of the Father (cf. John 10:17). But love and wrath are not contradictory; love and hatred are. It is only because Jesus was the Son, loved immutably as such and loved increasingly in His messianic capacity as He progressively fulfilled the demands of the Father’s commission, that He could bear the full stroke of judicial wrath. This is inscribed on the most mysterious utterance that ever ascended from earth to heaven, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1; Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34). God in our nature forsaken of God! Here is the wonder of the Father’s love and of the Son’s love, too. Eternity will not scale its heights or fathom its depths. How pitiable is the shortsightedness that blinds us to its grandeur and that fails to see the necessity and glory of the propitiation. “Herein is love,” John wrote, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son a propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:10). Christ is truly the propitiation for our sins because He propitiated the wrath which was our damnation. The language of propitiation may not be diluted; it bespeaks the essence of Calvary.

Learn more:

  1. Theopedia: Propitiation
  2. GotQuestions.org: What is Propitiation?
  3. John Murray: The Atonement
  4. Frederick S. Leahy: The Wrath of God in Relation to the Atonement
  5. My old blog: Propitiation: What does it mean?
  6. Mark Dever: Propitiation (mp3)

Do you have a a theological term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion, and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.

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References (3)

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Reader Comments (1)

Wow, Rebecca, I did not realize the extent of your TOTOTW list, Just a couple of days ago I was tackling 'propitiation' in my daily devos. I did find a good chapter on the wrath of God in Knowing God by Packer, and now this... which I will probably link to (I write the daily meditations weeks ahead of when they're published so there is still time). Anyway, I'm going to bookmark your list page, and am sure I'll be back. Thanks!

February 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterviolet

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