"Propitiation means the turning away of wrath by an offering. In relation to soteriology, propitiation means placating or satisfying the wrath of God by the atoning sacrifice of Christ." Charles C. Ryrie (1999-01-11). Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Kindle Locations 5503-5504). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

"The word propitiation carries the basic idea of appeasement, or satisfaction, specifically towards God. Propitiation is a two-part act that involves appeasing the wrath of an offended person and being reconciled to them."^[1]^ Propitiation is that "by which it becomes consistent with his character and government to pardon and bless the sinner. The propitiation does not procure his love or make him loving; it only renders it consistent for him to exercise his love towards sinners."^[2]^


Luke 18:13. In the parable of the "Pharisee and the Tax Collector", we also have an extraordinary use of the same word group. Note the Tax Collector cries out, "God, be merciful to me a sinner". Although our English translations do not bear it out in obvious fashion, this is a cognate verb, "be merciful" (hilaskomai). Note Colin Browns discussion: Vol. 3, 160

In Rom. 3:25 and Heb. 9:5 the Greek word hilasterion (KJV, "mercy-seat") is used. It is the word employed by the Septuagint (LXX). translators in Ex. 25:17 and elsewhere as the equivalent for the Hebrew kapporeth, which means "covering," and is used of the lid of the ark of the covenant (Ex. 25:21; 30:6). Hilasterion came to denote not only the mercy-seat or lid of the ark, but also propitiation or reconciliation by blood. On the great day of atonement the high priest carried the blood of the sacrifice he offered for all the people within the veil and sprinkled with it the "mercy-seat," and so made propitiation.^ [3]^

In 1 John 2:2; 4:10, Christ is called the "propitiation for our sins." Here a different Greek word is used, hilasmos. Christ is "the propitiation," because by his becoming our substitute and assuming our obligations he expiated our guilt, covering it by the vicarious punishment which he endured. (Compare Heb. 2:17, where the expression "make reconciliation" of the KJV is more correctly in the ASV "make propitiation").^ [4]^

Propitiation versus Expiation

Propitiation literally means to make favorable and specifically includes the idea of dealing with God’s wrath against sinners. Expiation literally means to make pious and implies either the removal or cleansing of sin.

The idea of propitiation includes that of expiation as its means; but the word "expiation" has no reference to quenching God’s righteous anger. The difference is that the object of expiation is sin, not God. One propitiates a person, and one expiates a problem. Christ's death was therefore both an expiation and a propitiation. By expiating (removing the problem of) sin God was made propitious (favorable) to us.

The case for translating the Greek word hilasterion as "expiation" was put forward by C. H. Dodd in 1935 and gained wide support.^[5]^ As a result hilasterion has been translated as ‘expiation’ in the RSV and some other modern versions. But a generation of debate has shown, especially in the work of Leon Morris, that the linguistic evidence appears to favor “propitiation” as the more appropriate rendering.^ [6]^

ESV Study Bible on Propitiation in Romans 3:25

"Jesus' blood 'propitiated' or satisfied God’s wrath (1:18), so that his holiness was not compromised in forgiving sinners. Some scholars have argued that the word propitiation should be translated expiation (the wiping away of sin), but the word cannot be restricted to the wiping away of sins as it also refers to the satisfaction or appeasement of God’s wrath, turning it to favor (cf. note on John 18:11). God’s righteous anger needed to be appeased before sin could be forgiven, and God in his love sent his Son (who offered himself willingly) to satisfy God’s holy anger against sin. In this way God demonstrated his righteousness, which here refers particularly to his holiness and justice. God’s justice was called into question because in his patience he had overlooked former sins. In other words, how could God as the utterly Holy One tolerate human sin without inflicting full punishment on human beings immediately? Paul’s answer is that God looked forward to the cross of Christ where the full payment for the guilt of sin would be made, where Christ would die in the place of sinners. In the OT, propitiation (or the complete satisfaction of the wrath of God) is symbolically foreshadowed in several incidents: e.g., Ex. 32:11–14; Num. 25:8, 11; Josh. 7:25–26."

Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible (Kindle Locations 277848-277859). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.


  1. Propitiation at Got Questions Ministries.
  2. Easton's Bible Dictionary, third edition, 1897 (public domain).
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. C. H. Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks (1935) pp. 82-95. As referenced in A Theology of the New Testament, by George Eldon Ladd, Donald A. Hagner, p. 470.
  6. Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 3rd revised ed. (London: Tyndale Press, 1965). Cf. Matthew Black, Romans, New Century Bible (London,1973), p. 68; David Hill, Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings (Cambridge University Press, 1967), pp. 23-48.

Relevant passages

  • Luke 18:13
  • Romans 3:25
  • Hebrews 2:17
  • 1 John 2:2
  • 1 John 4:10

Further reading

See also