Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines “to propitiate” as “to appease and render favorable.” This word or its derivatives appears only three times in the King James version:
Romans 3:25, “… whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood …”
1 John 2:2, “He is the propitiation for our sins …”
1 John 4:10, “… God sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
The equivalent Greek word hilasmos and its cognates, however, appear some eight times in the New Testament and as often as 221 times in the Septuagint.
Pagan Use Of Terms
These words are not found exclusively in sacred literature but are fairly common in both classical and Hellenistic Greek. When used as religious terms in a heathen context, they are ordinarily charged with various unfortunate connotations, due to the pagan conception of the nature of the gods and of their relationship to man. We may mention the following:
1. The gods were viewed as very whimsical and temperamental beings who easily took offense and whose favor had to be curried by special gifts and sacrifices. Their good will could be bought by a “process of celestial bribery”, as Leon Morris terms it (Expository Times, LXII [May 1951], 227).
2. This appeasement was seldom conceived in a moral context. The need for satisfaction was not grounded in ethical considerations but rather in the arbitrary whims and tantrums of the gods.
3. There was little if any correlation between the gravity of the offense committed and the importance or value of the propitiatory offering.
4. In some instances the transaction was morally objectionable, occasionally revolting, as in the case of human ...1
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