How should we view Romans 3:21-26? Propitiation Week - Day 2


(This is part 2 of 5 in the Twisted Bible series on Propitation. View the first post here.)

(21) But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— (22) the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: (23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (24) and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (25) whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. (26) It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. -Romans 3:21-26

Yesterday I introduced the above passage, which we will now unpack. I realize that most would just like to define "propitiation," but I want us to look at the full context which reveals much more than just a definition. When we hear this passage, verse 23 is most often quoted because it focuses on how we have all sinned. Yet when we read the context of chapter 3 and the entire letter of Romans, we see this is not Paul's emphasis. We can easily miss what Paul is communicating when we cherry pick a few verses to create the "Roman's Road." My goal in this series is to have a detailed look at the word "propitiation," but we need to unpack the context before we dive in.

So let's take another look at our passage and read verses 21-22, since they give the setting of verse 23. It ends with exclamation that there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile. It is on this commonality that the following verses proceed. Paul goes on to explain how there are two main reasons why there is no distinction. If we stop after the first reason in verse 23, we have cut Paul off and not allowed him to explain the second reason found in verse 24. When we read the context we see that there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile because not only have all sinned, but all can be justified through Jesus.

Paul continues by describing the many layers of justification. As we read, let's try to focus on each and every phrase that compose this verse 24-25, "(all) are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith." If you look at all of these prepositions like me, you probably think, "Slow down Paul and unpack that!" It is amazing how much he says in so few words. Now that Paul has explained that we can be justified, he explains the means (by), the presentation (as), he process (through), the location (that is in), the presenter (whom), the model (as a), the reason (by), the goal (to be), and the how (by). That's a lot in one sentence! Entire books could, should, and have been written on these aspects that Paul summarizes here. While this is not the focus of this article, or this series, we need to be able to view the forest before focus on a single tree.

Starting tomorrow we look at the phrase that is translated, "whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood," and most specifically, the Greek word "Hilast─ôron." It is this word which is translated as "propitiation" in almost all English translations. Though this single word has created so much debate over the years, most of us just skim over it. So tomorrow we will look at this historical debate and the problems with both sides. In Day 4 we will take a good look at the problem and in Day 5 finally define the word, showing there is an alternative which avoids the debate and solves bad theology.

As a way of a preview, know that when this word's translation and meaning is so butchered, our view of God and Jesus can be greatly altered. But when this word is properly viewed we see a beautiful image of the Gospel, and it rights our view of God and Jesus. Join us tomorrow to continue to look at this awesome word and the debate it causes.


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