Propitiation Or Expiation
The word propitiation occurs three times in the New Testament. Twice (1 John 2:2, 4:10) it comes from the Greek word hilasmós and means appeasement or atonement. The other occurrence of propitiation is translated from the Greek word hilasterion and means the place of appeasement. This Greek word occurs twice in the Bible and is translated propitiation once (Romans 3:25) and mercyseat the other (Hebrews 9:5). The LXX (Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures) uses hilastḗrion for the mercyseat of the Old Testament. These Greek words are basically synonymous but there is controversy in how they should be translated. Some versions of the Bible use expiate or mercyseat to translate both hilasmós and hilasterion instead of propitiation.
This controversy exists because of the difference of opinion concerning the distinction in meaning between propitiation and expiation. Expiation speaks of the process by which sins are nullified, covered, or cleansed. The emphasis is on an action by God to restore fellowship with man and the focus is on God’s love and mercy. Propitiation speaks of the appeasement or placation of an offended party. Here, the emphasis is on an action by man to turn aside God’s wrath and the focus is on God’s fury and anger. I think it’s best to view these terms not as synonymous or in opposition, but to view them as complimentary. Expiation falls under the concept of propitiation. We experience propitiation because of expiation. Some people are opposed toward using propitiation because they believe the word puts God on the same level as the ancient pagan gods who needed human sacrifices to placate their wrath and their easily offended spirit. God’s wrath is always a just and holy wrath. The use of propitiation in no way implies that we must walk on eggshells so as not to offend an emotionally unstable Father. God hates sin but His mercy, love, and grace are always in view.