[box]RVWD is my abbreviation for Religious Vocabulary Word of the Day. (You can read my introduction to the RVWD series here.) I do not intend for these word investigations to be exhaustive, but I hope they stimulate some thinking about assumptions. Possibly they will help with honest evaluations about what is truth and what is unnecessary baggage in life. [/box]
Do you know what the word propitiation means as used in the Bible? If you look up its roots, you find it comes from the Latin word propitius, which simply means “favorable” or “gracious.” The English adjective propitious is derived from it (See Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th edition). I think I may have actually read in an 19th century novel that “the weather was propitious.” But that doesn’t give a very full understanding of what the word means when used in its noun form, as when an action or person is said to be “a propitiation.” This is the usage in the Bible, specifically the New Testament, in I John 2:2, 4:10, Romans 3:25, and Hebrews 2:17. To quote just one of the verses right here,
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Song to be the propitiation for our sins. (I John 4:10)
To propitiate is, according to the same dictionary, “to cause to become favorably inclined, to win back good will, to appease or reconcile.” It is strongly associated with what people seek from entities considered to be of higher spiritual power. The way propitiation is directed in the Bible, that is, the way it is always being referred to as provided for us, indicates that it is humans, not God, who need help (See Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words). In other words, in the Bible, it is not people doing anything to “change the mind of a capricious god,” but instead there is provision to access a sure and obvious way to be friends with a reliable God. One might say, to be friends again, because it is human action that broke and hinders the possible bond with Him. He has remained the same, basically waiting for people to choose this way of reconciliation.
Which brings me to the subject of synonyms. There are many for propitiation, and its cousin expiate, which may be one reason it is not commonly used. Besides reconcile, there is appease, have mercy, atone, make amends, forgive, wipe away, sacrifice, pay a penalty, and purge. Not all of these synonyms have the same complete meaning as propitiation, but they deal with certain aspects of the word and are all very intertwined. Again, because of common assumptions, I would like to point out that the need to appease does not indicate unreasonable anger or hard heartedness on the part of the person who must be appeased, if there is to be restoration of relationship. If someone lies to you or steals from you, there can be no real friendship unless there is something done about the wrong done and to bring back trust.
There is a completeness about the word propitiation, as it is used in the Bible. People have severed themselves from the goodness of God, but He, in one grand act, provides the one and only propitiation needed. But forced friendship is no friendship at all, so it is a propitiation that can be declined or accepted. But you don’t even have to know the word propitiation to do that. You just have to believe that He voluntarily paid the price for your sin and love Him for it.