Copyright Rev. Stanley L. Derickson Ph.D. 1992



We need to define the term propitiation which we have all heard so many times before. Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary states that propitiate means " gain or regain the favor or goodwill of." (By permission. From Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary copyright 1991 by Merriam-Webster Inc., publisher of the Merriam-Webster (registered) Dictionaries.)

Pardington states, "literally signifying an appeasing, a placation, an expiation. Propitiation comes from the Latin and means that which renders one propitious or favorably disposed towards another." (Pardington, Rev. George P. Ph.D.; "OUTLINE STUDIES IN CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE"; Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1926, p 254)

Kaufman states, "Theological term for the appeasement of the wrath of God through sacrifice, prayer, or in some other way. According to the New Testament, guilt is removed and broken relationships with god restored only by the sacrifice of christ, received in faith and obedience. God has set forth Christ "to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past" (Romans 4:25)." (Kauffman, Donald T.; "THE DICTIONARY OF RELIGIOUS TERMS"; Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1967)

From this we can conclude that Christ propitiated God on our behalf. In other words he regained God's favor for mankind. We were, so to speak, on His bad side, and Christ got us onto His good side. That is very simplistic, yet true.

In Adam, all of mankind fell into sin, into damnation, and into eternal death, yet Christ corrected all those problems, through His work on the cross. We can, if saved, stand before God as Adam stood before the fall. Christ made ALL things right between man and God.

There are three Greek words translated propitiation in the New Testament (All usages are listed).

1. "hilasmos" This term is seen in two passages where it depicts what Christ did for mankind. I John 2:2, "And he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." I John 4:10, "Herein is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."

Two things we need to notice. First of all, the propitiation was for our sins, and the work was done by Christ. Secondly, it was propitiation for the ". . .sins of the whole world." Just how the limited atonement people get around that clear statement of Scripture would be an interesting study in foot work.

2. "hilasterion" Unger mentions this passage and term as relating to the place of propitiation, however the context would indicate more specifically the person of propitiation, Jesus Christ. Rom. 3:24-25, "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;"

Does this mean that propitiation is based on repentance as well as forgiveness? The two certainly seem to be tied to faith! It would seem in light of all we know that propitiation was for all people both lost and saved, yet there seems to be a need of faith for one to receive the benefit of this propitiation.

The term is used of an interesting place in Heb. 9:5, "And over it the cherubim of glory shadowing the mercy seat [this is the term]; of which we cannot now speak particularly."

The dwelling place of God in the Wilderness was named propitiation. The spot where the blood of animals was sprinkled (Lev. 16:15), is used to signify what the New Testament calls propitiation.

Hebrews tells us that Christ offered His own blood in the heavenly tabernacle as an everlasting propitiation for sin. It is faith in that blood that saves man.

3. "hilaskomai" is our third term. It refers to the act of God toward man which is propitious. Luke 18:13 "And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner." ("merciful" is the term in view. The translation should be propitiation.)

Heb. 2:17 "Wherefore, in all things it behooved him to be made like his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people." ("reconciliation" is the term that we are looking for.) The term reconciliation should appear as propitiation. The interlinear translates it this way.

Vine mentions of this term, ". . .was used amongst the Greeks with the significance to make the gods propitious, to appease, propitiate, inasmuch as their good will was not conceived as their natural attitude, but something to be earned first." He also mentions that the term is never used in a way that would suggest that man is able to propitiate our God. (Vine, W. E.; "AN EXPOSITORY DICTIONARY OF NEW TESTAMENT WORDS"; Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., p 895) THIS SEEMS TO BE A GOOD THOUGHT!

Cambron relates the word to the term "satisfaction." "The law demanded death for sin; therefore, the blood of the sacrifice was placed on the mercy seat (Ex. 25:22; Lev. 16:13,14), showing that death had taken place. God looked upon the mercy seat and saw blood - life - and was satisfied. Since calvary, God looks upon our Mercy Seat, which is Christ, and is satisfied. Therefore, the underlying thought of propitiation is "satisfaction." (Cambron, Mark G. D.D.; "BIBLE DOCTRINES"; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954, p 97)

I question his comment, that Christ is the mercy seat. His shed blood is on the heavenly mercy seat in my estimation, rather than Christ being the mercy seat Himself.

Propitiation is for all mankind, both lost and saved. I John 2:2 "And he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."

Propitiation is not automatic for the lost person. It seems to be linked to the faith of one coming to the Lord. Rom. 3:25 "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;" The provision is made yet this verse seems to indicate the application or benefit is based on faith.

Propitiation is not something that we need to ask God for, nor is it something that we have to request Him to be. Unger states, "In this present age since the death of Christ God does not have to be asked to be propitious, because He has become so, through the death of Christ." (Taken from: "UNGER'S BIBLE DICTIONARY"; Unger, Merrill F.; Copyright 1957, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago; Moody Press. Used by permission.)

Propitiation is the "Greek equivalent of the Hebrew "kapporeth," or mercy seat, the lid of the ark of the covenant." (Pardington p 255) The meaning of that close link should drive some young theologians into a detailed study!

Propitiation must be God's idea if it came through the cross, for man could not have devised that plan! Man's plans are evident the world over, and none even come close to the cross, nor God dieing on it.

Propitiation is not salvation. "It rather secures the possibility of salvation." (Chafer, Lewis Sperry; "SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY"; Dallas, TX: Dallas Seminary Press, 1947, Vol. 5) It places man in a proper attitude or position before God, whereby the possibility of salvation exists.

There probably is a need for further study as to the specifics of this doctrine. Since faith is involved, I assume that propitiation is a precursor to salvation - something which Christ did make available to me. Since propitiation is for the whole world, I assume that it is available to all, but must be received by faith. Though it is not salvation, nor an integrated part of the salvation process, it is necessary for the salvation process to begin.

Propitiation is NOT Jesus Christ Himself as Chafer mentions in Vol. VII p 259. "...His body at Golgotha, becomes the Mercy Seat in reality." If this were really true then why did He bother to offer His blood upon the heavenly mercy seat as is indicated in Heb. 9: 22,23? True it is not stated yet the Old Testament priest did this and the context is contrasting the old and the new. Vs 23."It was, therefore, necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these."

Propitiation is not reconciliation. Propitiation would be a step toward that reconciliation between God and man. Propitiation makes it possible for the reconciliation to occur.

Propitiation does not bring forgiveness as some set forth. Thiessen states when he quotes from Hodge, "By the suffering of the sinner's atoning substitute, the divine wrath at sin is propitiated, and as a consequence of this propitiation the punishment due to sin is released, or not inflicted upon the transgressor. This release or noninfliction of penalty is "forgiveness," in the Biblical representation." (Thiessen quoting Hodge: Thiessen, Henry C.; "LECTURES IN SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY"; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1949, p 326) Propitiation opens the door of possibility to forgiveness, though the two are not one. Propitiation is something that is provided by an act of Christ, and recognized by the Father, while forgiveness is something that is given by God and enjoyed by the believer.


1. Here we have another fact that drives home the truth that there is nothing that man can do for his own salvation, except believe and accept that which God has provided for us, even before we needed it. Does not Rom. 5:8 relate to this thought? "But God commendeth his love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

Christ provided the act that made propitiation, The Father is satisfied, and the Spirit draws the lost person to realization of all of these truths relevant to salvation.

HE did it all, not my plan, or your plan or someone else's plan.