In the Greco-Roman world this word carried the concept of a restoration of fellowship with an estranged deity by means of a price being paid. However, it is not used in this sense in the Septuagint. It was used in the Septuagint and in Heb. 9:5 to translate "mercy seat" (BDB 498, KB 495, cf. Exod. 25:21-22; Lev. 16:12-15), which was the lid of the ark of the covenant located in the Holy of Holies, the place where atonement was procured on behalf of the nation on the Day of Atonement (cf. Leviticus 16). Obviously Paul is using sacrificial metaphors in Rom. 3:25 taken from Israel's sacrificial system (i.e., Leviticus 1-7; see Special Topic: Sacrificial Systems of the ANE). These metaphors (i.e., "propitiation," "ransom," "sacrifice") are understood only in connection with the OT oracles of God. Paul then must explain their relevance to all mankind. YHWH revealed Himself to Abraham/Israel to reveal Himself to all (see Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan); all are in His image; all have rebelled; all can be saved through faith in Christ (Jewish Messiah; see Special Topic: Messiah).

This term must be dealt with in a way that does not lessen God's revulsion to sin, but affirms His positive redemptive attitude toward sinners. A good discussion is found in James Stewart's A Man in Christ, pp. 214-224. One way to accomplish this is to translate the term so that it reflects God's work in Christ; "a propitiatory sacrifice"; or "with propitiatory power."

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