Atoning Sacrifice- 1 John 2:2

In 1 John 2:2, we find that Jesus is the “atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world”. The Greek word translated “atoning sacrifice” here is hilasmos, which in some translations (KJV,ESV,ASV) is translated as propitiation, while in others (RSV) it is translated as expiation. Much argument has taken place over the years as to which of these is “correct”. Does John use hilasmos as propitiation or expiation? We will address this issue by first defining what these terms mean. Propitiation refers to the aversion of wrath. It was used in pagan religions to refer to sacrifices offered to placate the anger of the gods. God hates sin, and His wrath (anger) rightly and justly falls upon all sin, and Jesus, in His sacrifice, took the wrath of God upon Himself. God was propitiated by Jesus’ sacrifice, His wrath was averted from us and poured out upon Jesus, so Jesus was the propitiation for our sins. Expiation means to “make amends or atone for”. Sin is an offense against God and blood was required to make atonement for it (Leviticus 16:27), sin must be atoned for to be forgiven (Hebrews 9:23). In the Old Testament, sin was atoned for by the sprinkling of blood upon the atonement cover (also known as the mercy seat), which is the Hebrew term kipporet, which is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek hilsterion. In the New Testament, sin is atoned for by the blood of the Lamb of God, whose blood was shed to atone for our sin so that it would be forgiven. So Jesus also was the expiation for our sins. Propitiation and expiation can therefore be seen as two sides of the same coin, as two things which go together and look at Jesus sacrifice from two different perspectives. God is propitiated and sin is expiated, and both are necessary for our salvation. God’s wrath is averted from us and our sin is atoned for, and both are accomplished through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. We are blameless because our sin has been expiated, and we are holy and draw near to God because He has been propitiated. So which translation of hilasmos is the correct one? We have shown that expiation and propitiation belong together, and that both of these were accomplished by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. It is our opinion that to translate this term as an either/or (either expiation or propitiation) leaves something missing from what John is trying to tell us here, and it should be more properly translated as a both/and, as the NIV attempts to do with its “sacrifice of atonement”. The use of sacrifice captures the concept of propitiation, while the use of atonement captures the concept of expiation. Propitiation/expiation is not by nature an either/or, but rather a both/and. It is not either expiation or propitiation, but rather both expiation and propitiation. Jesus’ sacrifice both averted God’s wrath and atoned for sin, and the two can not and should not be separated, for they belong together, and what Jesus did accomplished both for us, our sin is expiated and God’s wrath is propitiated, all by Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for us.

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