Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Stott on Propitiation

In his commentary on Romans, John Stott points out that Luther and Calvin believed that hilasterion ('atoning sacrifice') referred to the 'mercy seat' (Lev. 16).  However, Stott argues against such a translation.

Stott also argues against Dodd's viewpoint that hilasterion should be translated 'expiate' ('to annul guilt or remove defilment').  He points out that the context suggests otherwise because in 'these verses Paul is describing God's solution to the human predicament, which is not only sin but but God's wrath upon sin.'  Therefore, he says that this verse teaches 'propitiation' (the satisfying of God's wrath).  'We should not be shy of using the word "propitiation" in relation to the cross, any more more than we should drop the word "wrath" in relation to God.  Instead, we should struggle to reclaim and reinstate this language by showing that the Christian doctrine of propitiation is totally different from pagan and animistic superstitions.'

'First ... Why was propitiation necessary?  The pagan answer is because the gods are bad-tempered, subject to moods and fits, and capricious.  The Christian answer is because God's holy wrath rests on evil.  There is nothing unprincipled, unpredictable or uncontrolled about God's anger; it is aroused by evil alone.'

'Secondly ... Who undertakes to do the propitiating?  The pagan answer is that we do.  We have offended the gods; so we must appease them.  The Christian answer, by contrast, is that we cannot placate the righteous anger of God ... But God in his undeserved love has done for us what we could never do for ourselves.'

'Thirdly ... How is propitiation to be accomplished? ... The pagan answer is that we have to bribe the gods with sweets, vegetable offerings, animals, and even human sacrifices.  The Old Testament sacrificial system was entirely different, since it was recognized that God himself has "given" the sacrifices to the people to make atonement.  And this is clear beyond doubt in the Christian propitiation, for God gave his own Son to die in our place, and in giving his Son he gave himself.'

Stott quotes, Charles Cranfield: 'God, because in his mercy he willed to forgive sinful men, and being truly merciful, willed to forgive them righteously, that is, without in any way condoning their sin, purposed to direct against his own very Self in the person of his Son the full weight of that righteous wrath which they deserved.'

In 'The Cross of Christ' Stott writes, 'When we review so much Old Testament material (the shedding and sprinkling of blood, the sin offering, the Passover, the meaning of "sin-bearing", the scapegoat and Isaiah 53), and consider its New Testament application to the death of Christ, we are obliged to conclude that the cross was a substitutionary sacrifice.  Christ died for us.  Christ died instead of us.'  

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