A Twisted Crown of Thorns ®

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Did KJV blow it when differentiating between ‘Propitiation’ and ‘Expiation’?

One of my favorite theologians, the ever witty Dr Jim West has just been going through his King James Bible (KJV) and realises that:

I John 2:2 declares ‘And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world’ (KJV). There’s just one problem with this translation: ἱλασμός doesn’t mean ‘propitiation’, it means ‘expiation’.

When you ‘propitiate’ a deity you do the same thing as the natives do when they trundle up a volcano and toss a virgin in it to stop the angry god from destroying you and your fellow islanders.

When ‘expiation’ occurs you do the same thing as the Israelites did when they put their hands on the scapegoat and sent it off into the wilderness. That goat ‘bears your sins away’ where they can’t harm you anymore and their effects are ameliorated.

This is why accurate translation matters. The difference between rendering ἱλασμός propitiation and expiation is the difference between pagan ritual and revelation. The God of the Bible is the God who, in Christ, carries our sins off. That’s why he is our ἱλασμός. And he is our ἱλασμός because that is what he does.

The KJV blew it on this one. And blew it big.


5 responses to “Did KJV blow it when differentiating between ‘Propitiation’ and ‘Expiation’?

  1. Born4Battle February 15, 2012 at 11:52

    Stromg’s Definition:
    atonement, that is, (concretely) an expiator: – propitiation.

    Thayer Definition:
    1) an appeasing, propitiating
    2) the means of appeasing, a propitiation

    Maybe it’s not so big.I think there might be atonement, expiation, and propitiation in view..

  2. theologianarry February 15, 2012 at 20:41

    ἱλασμός certainly has to do with appeasing, which is true of both the word propitiation and expiation.

    It is interesting to note that Num 35:33 in the LXX renders “ἐξιλασθήσεται” (which is from the same root word) from the Hebrew “יְכֻפַּר” (kaphar), which as seen in Gen 32:21 can refer to propitiation and not merely expiation.

    Keep in mind that Christ is both the propitiation (taking the fullness of God’s wrath) and the expiation (taking our sins away) for our sins. Propitiation has more to do with appeasing wrath than expiation does.

  3. strawberry February 17, 2012 at 19:58

    the ESV got it wrong then too

  4. Pingback: How do you solve a problem like King James Onlyism? « A Twisted Crown of Thorns ®

  5. Doug Gibson July 6, 2013 at 06:29

    The translators of the LXX could not find a suitable word in Greek to convey the concept of expiation, so they used the term propitiation, but intending the Hebrew term to expiate, to cleanse, purge, blot out, remove, carry or bear away. Why would God need a gift to appease him if he has expiated (cleansed, blotted out) our sin as an expression of his love through a sin sacrifice? The purpose of the sacrifices was not to satisfy justice, but to CLEANSE the sinner. The victims were NOT being punished, okay? This is not rocket science. The sacrifices removed SIN. There are no passages ANYWHERE dealing with atonement that state the penalty was removed…only the SIN. In atonement(s), God deals with the CAUSE of punishment. Theologians who teach ‘propitiation’ try to convey that Jesus came to deal with our punishment! Cross-reference ‘blood’ and ‘sin’ and see what happens when you cross-reference ‘blood’ and ‘punishment’ or ‘penalty’ and the truth will become painfully clear.

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