What Do Expiation and Propitiation Mean?

This excerpt is adapted from The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul

When we talk about the vicarious aspect of the atonement, two rather technical words come up again and again: expiation and propitiation. These words spark all kinds of arguments about which one should be used to translate a particular Greek word, and some versions of the Bible will use one of these words and some will use the other one. I’m often asked to explain the difference between propitiation and expiation. The difficulty is that even though these words are in the Bible, we don’t use them as part of our day-to-day vocabulary, so we aren’t sure exactly what they are communicating in Scripture. We lack reference points in relation to these words.

Expiation and Propitiation

Let’s think about what these words mean, then, beginning with the word expiation. The prefix ex means “out of” or “from,” so expiation has to do with removing something or taking something away. In biblical terms, it has to do with taking away guilt through the payment of a penalty or the offering of an atonement. By contrast, propitiation has to do with the object of the expiation. The prefix pro means “for,” so propitiation brings about a change in God’s attitude, so that He moves from being at enmity with us to being for us. Through the process of propitiation, we are restored into fellowship and favor with Him.

In a certain sense, propitiation has to do with God’s being appeased. We know how the word appeasement functions in military and political conflicts. We think of the so-called politics of appeasement, the philosophy that if you have a rambunctious world conqueror on the loose and rattling the sword, rather than risk the wrath of his blitzkrieg you give him the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia or some such chunk of territory. You try to assuage his wrath by giving him something that will satisfy him so that he won’t come into your country and mow you down. That’s an ungodly manifestation of appeasement. But if you are angry or you are violated, and I satisfy your anger, or appease you, then I am restored to your favor and the problem is removed.

The same Greek word is translated by both the words expiation and propitiation from time to time. But there is a slight difference in the terms. Expiation is the act that results in the change of God’s disposition toward us. It is what Christ did on the cross, and the result of Christ’s work of expiation is propitiation—God’s anger is turned away. The distinction is the same as that between the ransom that is paid and the attitude of the one who receives the ransom.

Christ’s Work Was an Act of Placation

Together, expiation and propitiation constitute an act of placation. Christ did His work on the cross to placate the wrath of God. This idea of placating the wrath of God has done little to placate the wrath of modern theologians. In fact, they become very wrathful about the whole idea of placating God’s wrath. They think it is beneath the dignity of God to have to be placated, that we should have to do something to soothe Him or appease Him. We need to be very careful in how we understand the wrath of God, but let me remind you that the concept of placating the wrath of God has to do here not with a peripheral, tangential point of theology, but with the essence of salvation.

What Is Salvation?

Let me ask a very basic question: what does the term salvation mean? Trying to explain it quickly can give you a headache, because the word salvation is used in about seventy different ways in the Bible. If somebody is rescued from certain defeat in battle, he experiences salvation. If somebody survives a life-threatening illness, that person experiences salvation. If somebody’s plants are brought back from withering to robust health, they are saved. That’s biblical language, and it’s really no different than our own language. We save money. A boxer is saved by the bell, meaning he’s saved from losing the fight by knockout, not that he is transported into the eternal kingdom of God. In short, any experience of deliverance from a clear and present danger can be spoken of as a form of salvation.

When we talk about salvation biblically, we have to be careful to state that from which we ultimately are saved. The apostle Paul does just that for us in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, where he says Jesus “delivers us from the wrath to come.” Ultimately, Jesus died to save us from the wrath of God. We simply cannot understand the teaching and the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth apart from this, for He constantly warned people that the whole world someday would come under divine judgment. Here are a few of His warnings concerning the judgment: “‘I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment’” (Matt. 5:22); “‘I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment’” (Matt. 12:36); and “‘The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here’” (Matt. 12:41). Jesus’ theology was a crisis theology. The Greek word crisis means “judgment.” And the crisis of which Jesus preached was the crisis of an impending judgment of the world, at which point God is going to pour out His wrath against the unredeemed, the ungodly, and the impenitent. The only hope of escape from that outpouring of wrath is to be covered by the atonement of Christ.

Therefore, Christ’s supreme achievement on the cross is that He placated the wrath of God, which would burn against us were we not covered by the sacrifice of Christ. So if somebody argues against placation or the idea of Christ satisfying the wrath of God, be alert, because the gospel is at stake. This is about the essence of salvation—that as people who are covered by the atonement, we are redeemed from the supreme danger to which any person is exposed. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of a holy God Who’s wrathful. But there is no wrath for those whose sins have been paid. That is what salvation is all about.

The Crucifixion and Old Testament Prophecy

Sproul-rc9by Dr. R. C. Sproul

This excerpt is adapted from The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul.

If we look at the intricacy of the drama of the events of Jesus’ crucifixion, we see that some amazing things took place so that Old Testament prophetic utterances were fulfilled to the minutest detail. In the first instance, about it the Old Testament said that the Messiah would be delivered to the Gentiles (“dogs” or “congregation of the wicked”) for judgment (Ps. 22:16). It just so happened in the course of history that Jesus was put on trial during a time of Roman occupation of Palestine. The Romans allowed a certain amount of home rule by their conquered vassals, but they did not permit the death penalty to be imposed by the local rulers, so the Jews did not have the authority to put Christ to death. The only thing they could do was to meet in council and take Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, asking him to carry out the execution. So Jesus was delivered from His own people to the Gentiles—those who were “outside the camp.” He was delivered into the hands of pagans who dwelt outside the arena in which the face of God shone, outside the circle of the light of His countenance.

Second, the site of Jesus’ execution was outside Jerusalem. Once He was judged by the Gentiles and condemned to be executed, He was led out of the fortress, onto the Via Dolorosa, and outside the walls of the city. Just as the scapegoat was driven outside the camp, Jesus was taken outside Zion, outside the holy city where the presence of God was concentrated. He was sent into the outer darkness.

Third, whereas the Jews did their executions by stoning, the Romans did them by crucifixion. That determined the method of Jesus’ death: He would hang on a tree—a cross made of wood. The Bible doesn’t say, “Cursed is everyone who is stoned.” It says, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.”

Fourth, when Jesus was put on the cross, there was an astronomical perturbation. In the middle of the afternoon, it became dark. Darkness descended on the land. By some method, perhaps by an eclipse, the sun was blotted out. It was as if God had veiled the light of His countenance. Continue reading

The Design and Scope of the Atonement

sproul78Article by Dr. R. C. Sproul.

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine. (Original source it seems almost suicidal, like facing the open floodgates riding a raft made of balsa wood, to appeal to a seventeenth-century theologian to address a pressing theological issue. Nothing evokes more snorts from the snouts of anti-rational zealots than appeals to sages from the era of Protestant Scholasticism.

“Scholasticism” is the pejorative term applied by so-called “Neo-Orthodox” (better spelled without the “e” in Neo), or “progressive” Reformed thinkers who embrace the “Spirit” of the Reformation while eschewing its “letter” to the seventeenth-century Reformed thinkers who codified the insights of their sixteenth-century magisterial forebears. To the scoffers of this present age, Protestant Scholasticism is seen as a reification or calcification of the dynamic and liquid forms of earlier Reformed insight. It is viewed as a deformation from the lively, sanguine rediscovery of biblical thought to a deadly capitulation to the “Age of Reason,” whereby the vibrant truths of redemption were reduced to logical propositions and encrusted in dry theological tomes and arid creedal formulations such as the Westminster Confession of Faith.

The besetting sin of men like Francis Turretin and John Owen was their penchant for precision and clarity in doctrinal statements. As J. I. Packer observed in his introduction of John Owen’s classic work, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ:

“Those who see no need for doctrinal exactness and have no time for theological debates which show up divisions between so-called Evangelicals may well regret its reappearance … . Owen’s work is a constructive broad-based biblical analysis of the heart of the gospel, and must be taken seriously as such … . Nobody has the right to dismiss the doctrine of the limitedness of the atonement as a monstrosity of Calvinistic logic until he has refuted Owen’s proof that it is part of the uniform biblical presentation of redemption, clearly taught in plain text after plain text.”

The “monster” created by Calvinistic logic to which Packer refers is the doctrine of limited atonement. The so-called “Five points of Calvinism” (growing out of a dispute with Remonstrants (Arminians) in Holland in the early seventeenth century) have been popularized by the acrostic T-U-L-I-P, spelling out the finest flower in God’s garden:

T — Total Depravity
U — Unconditional Election
L — Limited Atonement
I — Irresistible Grace
P — Perseverance of the Saints.

Many who embrace a view of God’s sovereign grace in election are willing to embrace the Tulip if one of its five petals is lopped off. Those calling themselves “four-point Calvinists” desire to knock the “L” out of Tulip.

On the surface, it seems that of the “five points” of Tulip, the doctrine of limited atonement presents the most difficulties. Does not the Bible teach over and over that Jesus died for the whole world? Is not the scope of the atonement worldwide? The most basic affirmation the Evangelical recites is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world … .”

On the other hand, it seems to me that the easiest of the five points to defend is limited atonement. But this facility must get under the surface to be manifested. The deepest penetration under that surface is the one provided by Owen in The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.

First, we ask if the atonement of Christ was a real atonement? Did Jesus really, or only potentially, satisfy the demands of God’s justice? If indeed Christ provided a propitiation and expiation for all human beings and for all their sins, then, clearly, all persons would be saved. Universal atonement, if it is actual, and not merely potential, means universal salvation. Continue reading

God’s Intention in the Atonement

allen Dr. James White responds:

Let’s think about Dr. Allen’s claim here: there is an obvious presupposition that needs to be exposed and challenged. First, not those who are not His sheep. The once-for-all (temporal, not distributive use) sacrifice perfects those for whom it is made. The Father gives a specific people to the Son, the Son’s death brings about the salvation of each and every one of them, without fail (John 6:39). So there is harmony and consistency between the intention and will of the Father in the salvation of the elect, and the work of the Son in being personally united to the elect so that His death is their death, His resurrection their resurrection. Of course, if such a harmony exists, there is no room for the centerpiece of the synergistic universe: the autonomous will of the creature, man. So this consistency, this harmony, must be denied.

Next, note the assertion “is not adequate to save those for whom it was not made.” See the poorly hidden assumption? Why would the atonement have an intention other than that which is consistent with the actions of each of the members of the Godhead in their work of redemption? Why would the atonement have a different scope and purpose than that redemptive will of the Father? (Which is why synergists must assert a universal *redemptive* will of the Father and deny the specificity of the elect). In other words, why would the Father make personal, effective provision through union with the Son for those who will remain justly under His wrath? The assumption here is that there is some kind of justice issue involved *in the extension of grace* and that if the Father does not make *equal salvific provision* for each and every person, He is unjust. So make sure to note what this means: grace cannot be free, cannot be specific, cannot actually save—this is the watchword of the synergist, whether Roman or non. james-white031

Allen is playing on the discussion of term “adequacy” in reference to the atonement, confusing, as almost all synergists and universal atonement advocates do, the fact that there is no inherent limitation upon the *efficacy* of the atonement with the reality that the atonement is purposeful and harmonious with the election of the Father and the application of the Spirit (harmonious action of the Triune God). The idea is to place in the mind of the reader the false suggestion that by making the atonement consistent with the decree of election and the application by the Spirit we are introducing a fundamental *flaw* or *weakness* or *limitation* in the atonement’s power, when in reality, just the opposite is the case. Once we realize what the atonement is (a true propitiatory sacrifice) and once we realize how the Son is doing the will of the Father in the salvation of the elect, we see not only the atonement’s great power and perfection, we also see the grave dangers that flow necessarily from the synergistic viewpoint that renders the atonement potential, impersonal, and theoretical.

A Short Discussion on Particular Redemption

cross01The following is a discussion on particular redemption which took place between my friend, John Hendryx and a non-Calvinist (Joshua) in response to a quote someone posted online by John Piper.

“The main point of the doctrine of limited atonement is not to assert that Christ did not die for everyone in the sense that John 3:16 says he did: “For God so loved the world, pills that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” That is absolutely true: Christ died so that whoever believes in him will have eternal life. Christ’s death is sufficient for all, and should be offered to all as gloriously sufficient to save them if they will believe. “Limited atonement” does not deny any of that…

Today we focus on the third “D”—the duty that we have to believe. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish.”

Let me focus our attention on this act of believing from several different angles.”

“Believing is our link with the love of God. Notice how Jesus speaks of God’s love-rescue: God so loved the world so that believers will not perish. One of the ways to express this is that the Love of God is sufficient to save the world, but efficient to save those who believe. Efficient means his love actually saves believers. It is effective in saving them from perishing. The love of God does not have this effect in the lives of those who do not believe. They perish.” (John Piper)

Joshua: What good is saying it’s “sufficient for all” if it’s not intended for all? It’s like a tease to the “non-elect”.

Response: you can’t tease someone who does not want it. The call to believe the gospel goes out to all. If men reject Jesus it is their own fault. God does not coerce them or hold them back … they do so on their own. The opportunity to believe is open to all… but no one believes … yet God is still merciful to more ill deserving sinners than any man can count.

Joshua: Can’t tease someone who doesn’t want it? NOBODY wants it prior to conversion. Do you believe 1 Timothy 4:10?

Response: Joshua, that was the point. Nobody wants Christ prior to regeneration. (John:6:63, 65; 1 Cor 2:14; 12:3) The gospel call to believe goes out to all people without exception. But only those whom God inwardly calls by the Holy Spirit come to Christ. The Apostle declares, “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, (universal rejection) but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (salvation) – 1 Cor 1:23-24.

There are non redemptive benefits to the atonement, but the redemptive benefits (such as effectual grace) go to the elect only.

Calvinists have always believed that the atonement has non redemptive benefits even for the non elect but the main issues is REDEMPTIVE benefits, which is why we call it particular redemption… check out Jonathan Edwards acknowledging non redemptive benefits for all.. especially pay attention to the last line.

“Universal redemption must be denied in the very sense of Calvinists themselves, whether predestination is acknowledged or no, if we acknowledge that Christ knows all things. For if Christ certainly knows all things to come, he certainly knew, when he died, that there were such and such men that would never be the better for his death. And therefore, it was impossible that he should die with an intent to make them (particular persons) happy. For it is a right-down contradiction [to say that] he died with an intent to make them happy, when at the same time he knew they would not be happy-Predestination or no predestination, it is all one for that. This is all that Calvinists mean when they say that Christ did not die for all, that he did not die intending and designing that such and such particular persons should be the better for it; and that is evident to a demonstration. Now Arminians, when [they] say that Christ died for all, cannot mean, with any sense, that he died for all any otherwise than to give all an opportunity to be saved; and that, Calvinists themselves never denied. He did die for all in this sense; ’tis past all contradiction. -Jonathan Edwards [1722], The “Miscellanies”: (Entry Nos. a–z, aa–zz, 1–500) (WJE Online Vol. 13) , Ed. Harry S. Stout, page 1 74”

Joshua: Yes I’m familiar with Edwards and all the Calvi arguments in general. I’ll stick with what Scripture says.

Response: Joshua, it appears you missed the point … I was responding to your question about 1 Tim 4:10. That Jesus is the savior of all men especially those who believe – That all men are called and given an opportunity to believe the gospel… Calvinists do not disagree with that.

The Thief on the Cross

cross and crownLuke 23: 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42 And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ 43 And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

I have often contemplated the potential scene in my mind as one by one, the proponents of all religions were given the opportunity of talking to the thief on the cross, and what they would say to him. This was a man who was a criminal, a notorious sinner, and definitely one whose so called “bad deeds’ would outweigh the good ones. Being nailed to a cross negates any further opportunity for good works to be done. But it would be an interesting conversation, wouldn’t it, to hear what each religionist might say to him? In every case (apart from perhaps universalism which teaches that all people will be saved regardless of their works) each religion would require the man to somehow come down from the cross to do something.

What would a spokesman for Islam say? How about a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness? What would a Buddhist say? or a New Age guru? How about a Roman Catholic? If each could speak to this man, what religious advice would or could they give to him for the purpose of being saved (however they even define what that means)? Some might say that all he could do would be to hope for mercy, but Christ, the biblical Christ gave him far more than just hope. In contrast to what all man made religious systems could give the man, Christ gave him full assurance of salvation – and not just eventual salvation after countless years in the fires of purgatory, but bliss and paradise that very day!

Certain religions would require baptism, others would require the man go through religious instruction and devotion of some sort, while others would ask him to do more good works before his death hoping that they might outweigh the bad ones. But here’s my point, the man could never find salvation in those religious systems because he was stuck, pinned, nailed to a cross. His chance to help elderly people cross roads, or to give to charity or to live a life of service was gone. Nailed to a cross, works and service were no longer possible. His was a totally hopeless case.. except that crucified next to him was Someone who was able to save him by what He was doing, rather than what the man might do. Only the real biblical Jesus with the real biblical Gospel could announce to a criminal that before the day was over, he would be with Him in Paradise!

This thief’s salvation portrays the Gospel so clearly. Someone embracing anything other than the biblical gospel can only scratch their heads in wonder at the precious words given to this man, for in their system, such words would be impossible to say.

As far as I know, this man was the only person in the Bible that Jesus gave instantaneous assurance of salvation to. Jesus’ words, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” removes all doubt.

Can we know what was going on in the heart of this man? Well, we do not have a perfect understanding, but putting the pieces of the biblical text together, we can get quite a good picture. What is clear from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark is that this man had been amongst the many who had mocked Christ. Yet seemingly, out of nowhere, he turns to the other thief and says, “Don’t you fear God?” Obviously, this thief was now fearing God for him to be asking this question of the other one.

He also knew he was getting exactly what he deserved – “we indeed suffer justly” he said.

In addition, recognized the innocence of Christ when he said, “he has done nothing wrong.”

When he turned to Jesus and requested, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom” though knowing death was inevitable for all three of those crucified, he believed Jesus would triumph over death, and therefore, would be resurrected.

In affirming the fact that Jesus would come into His kingdom, he affirmed the Lordship or even the Deity of Christ. How much he knew of this we do not know, but obviously, he knew that Christ was indeed King.

So, he had an awareness of divine judgment, he knew the availability of forgiveness, he believed Christ was the true King and that in Christ there is hope even for him, he knew of the coming Kingdom and wanted to be a part of it.

As God opens our hearts and mind to the one true biblical Gospel, we will also find in Christ the full assurance of salvation. As we turn away from any attempt at self justification, knowing that it is by grace that we are saved, through faith and all of this is the gift of God, not as a result of works (Eph. 2:8,9), we too will enjoy the sweet saving mercy of God.

What a testimony to the Gospel this thief is. His testimony is exactly the same as mine. God saves sinners through the perfect work of the perfect Savior, plus nothing! Hallelujah!