Investigation: Etymology of "Expiation" and "Propitiation"
Etymology doesn't usually get us very far in understanding theological concepts since words pick up a lot of baggage through the centuries along their way to us, but I promised my Bible study class that I'd look up "expiation" and "propitiation" to check their roots.
According to the Online Etymological Dictionary:
expiation: 1482, from L. expiatus, pp. of expiare "make amends," from ex- "completely" + piare "propitiate, appease," from pius "faithful, loyal, devout."Interesting. The root piare is defined as "propitiate." Anyway, let's check this dictionary for "propitiation":
propitiation: 1388, from L.L. propitiationem (nom. propitiatio) "an atonement," from L. propitiare "render favorable," from propitius "favorable, gracious, kind," from pro- "forward" + petere "go to" (see petition). Earliest recorded form of the word is propitiatorium, "the mercy seat, place of atonement" (c.1200), transl. Gk. hilasterion. The verb propitiate is attested from 1645, from L. propitiatus, pp. of propitiare. Propitious "favorable" is from 1447.Both "expiation" and "propitiation" have been used to translate the Greek term hilasterion, which translates the Hebrew kapporeth, as can be seen in Exodus 25:18, courtesy of the Blue Letter Bible:
καὶ ποιήσεις δύο χερουβιμ χρυσᾶ τορευτὰ καὶ ἐπιθήσεις αὐτὰ ἐξ ἀμφοτέρων τῶν κλιτῶν τοῦ ἱλαστηρίουAs we see, the terms hilasteriou (ἱλαστηρίου, the genitive of hilasterion) and kapporeth (כַּפֹּֽרֶת) occur in the Greek translation and the Hebrew original of Exodus 25:18. In this verse, however, the Greek and Hebrew terms refer not to an abstraction rendered by either "expiation" or "propitiation," but to a part of the Ark of the Covenant. My sentimental choice, the King James Bible, translates this verse from the Hebrew as:
וְעָשִׂיתָ שְׁנַיִם כְּרֻבִים זָהָב מִקְשָׁה תַּעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם מִשְּׁנֵי קְצֹות הַכַּפֹּֽרֶת׃
And thou shalt make two cherubims [of] gold, [of] beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat. (KJV)But the New International Version has this:
And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. (NIV)The Hebrew term kapporeth is identified in the Blue Letter Bible's "Lexicon Results" as "the slab of gold on top of the ark of the covenant which measured 2.5 by 1.5 cubits; on it and part of it were the two golden cherubim facing each other whose outstretched wings came together above and constituted the throne of God." In its function, this is "the golden plate of propitiation on which the High Priest sprinkled the seat 7 times on the Day of Atonement symbolically reconciling Jehovah and His chosen people."
The root of kapporeth is kaphar, which is defined in the Blue Letter Bible's "Lexicon Results" as:
to cover, purge, make an atonement, make reconciliation, cover over with pitchThere is, however, a lot of disagreement over the definition of this root kaphar and whether it really means "to cover" or "to wipe away" (cf. pdf), but I won't go into that since I know too little and lack the time to investigate properly. I would look briefly at hilasterion in Exodus 25:18, but the Blue Letter Bible hasn't yet finished developing its pages on the Septuagint, i.e., the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures.
a) (Qal) to coat or cover with pitch
1) to cover over, pacify, propitiate
2) to cover over, atone for sin, make atonement for
3) to cover over, atone for sin and persons by legal rites
1) to be covered over
2) to make atonement for
d) (Hithpael) to be covered
This exercise in etymological investigation hasn't gotten me very far, but I didn't expect it to do so.