Propitiation means “the removal of wrath by the offering of a gift” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1986, “Propitiation”). It refers to an action or object used to make peace or repair a breach between two parties—in this case, describing Jesus Christ’s sacrifice as the atonement for our sins against God.
God hates sin, so the only way our relationship with Him can be made right is by Christ’s gift of His life to pay our death penalty. That’s why John writes, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10 1 John 4:10Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
American King James Version×).
Propitiation here conveys sin being covered and remitted (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, “Propitiation”). It is translated from the Greek word hilaskomai, which itself is often used to translate the Hebrew word kippur (atonement).
Here’s how other translations render the last part of 1 John 4:10 1 John 4:10Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
American King James Version×: “as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (New International Version), “as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (New Living Translation), “to die in our place to take away our sins” (New Century Version) and “as the remedy for the defilement of our sins” (New English Bible).
The other verses that contain the word propitiation are Romans 3:25 Romans 3:25Whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
American King James Version×, Hebrews 2:17 Hebrews 2:17Why in all things it behooved him to be made like to his brothers, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.
American King James Version×and 1 John 2:2 1 John 2:2And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our's only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
American King James Version×.
The New Bible Dictionary sums it up this way: “‘Propitiation’ is a reminder that God is implacably opposed to everything that is evil, that his opposition may properly be described as ‘wrath,’ and that this wrath is put away only by the atoning work of Christ” (1982, “Propitiation).
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