Being justified (dikaioumenoi). Present passive participle of dikaioō, to set right, repeated action in each case, each being set right.
Freely (dōrean). As in Gal_2:21.
By his grace (tēi autou chariti). Instrumental case of this wonderful word charis which so richly expresses Paul’s idea of salvation as God’s free gift.
Through the redemption (dia tēs apolutrōseōs). A releasing by ransom (apo, lutrōsis from lutroō and that from lutron, ransom). God did not set men right out of hand with nothing done about men’s sins. We have the words of Jesus that he came to give his life a ransom (lutron) for many (Mar_10:45; Mat_20:28). Lutron is common in the papyri as the purchase-money in freeing slaves (Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, pp. 327f.).
That is in Christ Jesus (tēi en Christōi Iēsou). There can be no mistake about this redemption. It is like Joh_3:16.
The fact that they are justified in this extraordinary way shows that they must have sinned.
Gratuitously. Compare Mat_10:8; Joh_15:25; 2Co_11:7; Rev_21:6.
See on Luk_1:30.
From ἀπολυτρόω to redeem by paying the λύτρον price. Mostly in Paul. See Luk_21:28; Heb_9:15; Heb_11:35. The distinction must be carefully maintained between this word and λύτρον ransom. The Vulgate, by translating both redemptio, confounds the work of Christ with its result. Christ’s death is nowhere styled λύτρωσις redemption. His death is the λύτρον ransom, figuratively, not literally, in the sense of a compensation; the medium of the redemption, answering to the fact that Christ gave Himself for us.
Being justified – Being treated as if righteous; that is, being regarded and treated as if they had kept the Law. The apostle has shown that they could not be so regarded and treated by any merit of their own, or by personal obedience to the Law. He now affirms that if they were so treated, it must be by mere favor, and as a matter not of right, but of gift. This is the essence of the gospel. And to show this, and the way in which it is done, is the main design of this Epistle. The expression here is to be understood as referring to all who are justified; Rom_3:22. The righteousness of God by faith in Jesus Christ, is “upon all who believe,” who are all “justified freely by his grace.”
Freely – δωρεὰν dōrean. This word stands opposed to what is purchased, or which is obtained by labor, or which is a matter of claim. It is a free, undeserved gift, not merited by our obedience to the Law, and not that to which we have any claim. The apostle uses the word here in reference to those who are justified. To them it is a mere undeserved gift, It does not mean that it has been obtained, however, without any price or merit from anyone, for the Lord Jesus has purchased it with his own blood, and to him it becomes a matter of justice that those who were given to him should be justified, 1Co_6:20; 1Co_7:23; 2Pe_2:1; 1Pe_2:9. (Greek). Act_20:28; Isa_53:11. We have no offering to bring, and no claim. To us, therefore, it is entirely a matter of gift.
By his grace – By his favor; by his mere undeserved mercy; see the note at Rom_1:7.
Through the redemption – διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως dia tēs apolutrōseōs. The word used here occurs only 10 times in the New Testament, Luk_21:28; Rom_3:24; Rom_8:23; 1Co_1:30; Eph_1:7, Eph_1:14; Eph_4:30; Col_1:14; Heb_9:15; Heb_11:35. Its root (λύτρον lutron) properly denotes the price which is paid for a prisoner of war; the ransom, or stipulated purchase-money, which being paid, the captive is set free. The word used here is then employed to denote liberation from bondage, captivity, or evil of any kind, usually keeping up the idea of a price, or a ransom paid, in consequence of which the delivery is effected. It is sometimes used in a large sense, to denote simple deliverance by any means, without reference to a price paid, as in Luk_21:28; Rom_8:23; Eph_1:14. That this is not the sense here, however, is apparent. For the apostle in the next verse proceeds to specify the price which has been paid, or the means by which this redemption has been effected. The word here denotes that deliverance from sin, and from the evil consequences of sin, which has been effected by the offering of Jesus Christ as a propitiation; Rom_3:25.
That is in Christ Jesus – Or, that has been effected by Christ Jesus; that of which he is the author and procurer; compare Joh_3:16.
25.Whom God hath set forth, etc. The Greek verb, προτίθεναι, means sometimes to determine beforehand, and sometimes to set forth. If the first meaning be taken, Paul refers to the gratuitous mercy of God, in having appointed Christ as our Mediator, that he might appease the Father by the sacrifice of his death: nor is it a small commendation of God’s grace that he, of his own good will, sought out a way by which he might remove our curse. According to this view, the passage fully harmonizes with that in Joh_3:16,
“God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son.”
Yet if we embrace this meaning, it will remain still true, that God hath set him forth in due time, whom he had appointed as a Mediator. There seems to be an allusion in the word, ἱλαστήριον, as I have said, to the ancient propitiatory; for he teaches us that the same thing was really exhibited in Christ, which had been previously typified. As, however, the other view cannot be disproved, should any prefer it, I shall not undertake to decide the question. What Paul especially meant here is no doubt evident from his words; and it was this, — that God, without having regard to Christ, is always angry with us, — and that we are reconciled to him when we are accepted through his righteousness. God does not indeed hate in us his own workmanship, that is, as we are formed men; but he hates our uncleanness, which has extinguished the light of his image. When the washing of Christ cleanses this away, he then loves and embraces us as his own pure workmanship.
A propitiatory through faith in his blood, etc. I prefer thus literally to retain the language of Paul; for it seems indeed to me that he intended, by one single sentence, to declare that God is propitious to us as soon as we have our trust resting on the blood of Christ; for by faith we come to the possession of this benefit. But by mentioning blood only, he did not mean to exclude other things connected with redemption, but, on the contrary, to include the whole under one word: and he mentioned “blood,” because by it we are cleansed. Thus, by taking a part for the whole, he points out the whole work of expiation. For, as he had said before, that God is reconciled in Christ, so he now adds, that this reconciliation is obtained by faith, mentioning, at the same time, what it is that faith ought mainly to regard in Christ — his blood.
For ( propter) the remission of sins, etc. The causal preposition imports as much as though he had said, “for the sake of remission,” or, “to this end, that he might blot out sins.” And this definition or explanation again confirms what I have already often reminded you, — that men are pronounced just, not because they are such in reality, but by imputation: for he only uses various modes of expression, that he might more clearly declare, that in this righteousness there is no merit of ours; for if we obtain it by the remission of sins, we conclude that it is not from ourselves; and further, since remission itself is an act of God’s bounty alone, every merit falls to the ground.
It may, however, be asked, why he confines pardon to preceding sins? Though this passage is variously explained, yet it seems to me probable that Paul had regard to the legal expiations, which were indeed evidences of a future satisfaction, but could by no means pacify God. There is a similar passage in Heb_9:15, where it is said, that by Christ a redemption was brought from sins, which remained under the former Testament. You are not, however, to understand that no sins but those of former times were expiated by the death of Christ — a delirious notion, which some fanatics have drawn from a distorted view of this passage. For Paul teaches us only this, — that until the death of Christ there was no way of appeasing God, and that this was not done or accomplished by the legal types: hence the reality was suspended until the fullness of time came. We may further say, that those things which involve us daily in guilt must be regarded in the same light; for there is but one true expiation for all.
Some, in order to avoid what seems inconsistent, have held that former sins are said to have been forgiven, lest there should seem to he a liberty given to sin in future. It is indeed true that no pardon is offered but for sins committed; not that the benefit of redemption fails or is lost, when we afterwards fall, as Novatus and his sect dreamed, but that it is the character of the dispensation of the gospel, to set before him who will sin the judgment and wrath of God, and before the sinner his mercy. But what I have already stated is the real sense.
He adds, that this remission was through forbearance; and this I take simply to mean gentleness, which has stayed the judgment of God, and suffered it not to burst forth to our ruin, until he had at length received us into favor. But there seems to be here also an implied anticipation of what might be said; that no one might object, and say that this favor had only of late appeared. Paul teaches us, that it was an evidence of forbearance.
Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, etc. This clause contains the ground of our deliverance from the curse of the law, and of our acceptance with God, and constitutes therefore the second step in the apostle’s exhibition of the plan of salvation. He had already taught that justification was not by works, but by faith, and entirely gratuitous; he now comes to show how it is that this exercise of mercy to the sinner can be reconciled with the justice of God and the demands of his law. The word προέθετο, hath set forth, also signifies to purpose, to determine, Rom_1:13; compare Rom_8:28. If this sense be adopted here, the meaning would be, ‘whom God hath purposed or decreed to be a propitiation.’ But the context refers to a fact rather than a purpose; and the words εἰς ἔνδειξιν (for the manifestation), as expressing the design of the manifestation of Christ, is decidedly in favor of the common interpretation. There are three interpretations of the word ἱλαστήριον (propitiation), which are worthy of attention. It was understood by many of the Fathers, and after them by Luther, Calvin, Grotius, Olshausen, and others, to mean the propitiatory, or mercy-seat, over the ark of the covenant, on which the high priest, on the great day of atonement, sprinkled the blood of the sacrifices. Here it was that God was propitiated, and manifested himself as reconciled to his people. The ground of this interpretation is, that the original word here used is employed in the Septuagint as the designation of the mercy-seat, Exo_25:18-20; and often elsewhere. The meaning would then be, ‘that God had set forth Jesus Christ as a mercy-seat, as the place in which, or the person in whom he was propitiated, and ready to forgive and accept the sinner.’ But the objections to this interpretation are serious.
1. The use of the word by the Greek translators of the Old Testament, probably arose from a mistake of the proper meaning of the Hebrew term. The Hebrew word means properly a cover; but as the verb whence it comes means literally, to cover; and metaphorically, to atone for, to propitiate, the Greek translators incorrectly rendered the noun ἱλαστήριον, the Latin propitiatorium, and our translators, the mercy-seat, a sense which כַּפֹרֶת never has. It is, therefore, in itself a wrong use of the Greek word.
2. This interpretation is not consistent with the analogy of Scripture. The sacred writers are not accustomed to compare the Savior to the cover of the ark, nor to illustrate his work by such a reference. This passage, if thus interpreted, would stand alone in this respect.
3. According to this view, there is an obvious incongruity in the figure. It is common to speak of the blood of a sacrifice, but not of the blood of the mercy-seat. Besides, Paul in this very clause speaks of “his blood.” See Deylingii Observationes, Part 2, sect. 41, and Krebs’s New Testament, illustrated from the writings of Josephus.
The second interpretation supposes that the word θῦμα (sacrifice) is to be supplied: ‘Whom he has set forth as a propitiatory sacrifice.’
1. In favor of this interpretation is the etymology of the word. It is derived from ἱλάσκομυαι, to appease, to conciliate. Hence ἱλαστήριος, as an adjective, is applied to anything designed to propitiate; as in the expressions “propitiatory monument,” “propitiatory death.” (Josephus Ant. 16. 7. 1 Lib. de Macc., sect. 17. See Krebs on this verse.)
2. The use of analogous terms in reference to the sacrificial services under the old dispensation, as σωτήριον, sacrificium pro salute, Exo_20:24; Exo_28:29, for which we have in Exo_24:5, θυσία σωτηρίου; so χαριστήρια, thank-offerings, τὸ καθάρσιον the offering for purification. In keeping with all these terms is the use of ἱλαστήριον (θῦμα) in the sense of propitiatory sacrifice.
3. The whole context favors this explanation, inasmuch as the apostle immediately speaks of the blood of this sacrifice, and as his design is to show how the gratuitous justification of men can be reconciled with the justice of God. It is only a modification of this interpretation, if ἱλαστήριον be taken substantively and rendered propitiation, as is done in the Vulgate and by Beza.
The third interpretation assumes that hilastherion is here used in the masculine gender, and means propitiator. This is the explanation given by Semler and Wahl; but this is contrary to the usage of the word and inconsistent with the context. The obvious meaning, therefore, of this important passage is, that God has publicly set forth the Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of the intelligent universe, as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of men. It is the essential idea of such a sacrifice, that it is a satisfaction to justice. It terminates on God. Its primary design is not to produce any subjective change in the offerer, but to appease God. Such is the meaning of the word, from which we have no right to depart. Such also is the idea which it of necessity would convey to every Gentile and every Jewish reader, and therefore such was the idea which the apostle intended to express. For if we are not to understand the language of the Bible in its historical sense, that is, in the sense in which the sacred writers knew it would be understood by those to whom they wrote, it ceases to have any determinate meaning whatever, and may be explained according to the private opinion of every interpreter. But if such be the meaning of these words, then they conclusively teach that the ground of our justification is no subjective change in us, but the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ. Olshausen, who elsewhere plainly teaches the doctrine of subjective justification, in his comment on this verse, admits the common Church doctrine. He denies that the work of Christ terminates on the sinner. “Every sacrifice,” he says, “proposed to expiate the guilt of man, and to appease the wrath of God, consequently the sacrifice of all sacrifices, in which alone all others have any truth, must accomplish that which they only symbolized.” The doctrine of the Scotists, he adds, of gratuita acceptatio, refutes itself, because God can never take a thing for what it is not, and therefore cannot accept as a satisfaction what is no satisfaction. Grotius’s view of an acceptilatio, which amounts to the same thing with the doctrine of Scotus, and resolves the atonement into a mere governmental display, (a popular theory reproduced as a novelty in the American Churches,) he also rejects. He says, “So there remains nothing but the acute theory of Anselm, properly understood, of a satisfactio vicaria, which completely agrees with the teachings of Scripture, and meets the demands of science.” According to Olshausen, therefore, (“die tiefste Erörterungen,”) the profoundest disclosures of modern science have at last led back to the simple old doctrine of a real vicarious satisfaction to the justice of God, as the ground of the sinner’s justification.
Through faith. These words, διὰ πίστεως, may be connected with δικαιούμενοι as coordinate with διὰ απολυτρώσεως: ‘Being justified through the redemption, that is, being justified through faith.’ But this breaks the connection between προέθετο and εἰς ἔνδειξιν. Meyer connects both διὰ πίστεως and ἐν τῷ αἳματι with προέθετο: ‘God hath, by means of faith, by his blood, set forth Christ as a propitiation.’ But the faith of man is not the means by which God set forth Christ. The most natural connection is with hilastherion, ‘a propitiation through faith,’ i.e. which is received or appropriated through faith. It is a more doubtful question how the words in his blood are to be connected. The most obvious construction is that adopted in our version, as well as in the Vulgate, and by Luther, Calvin, Olshausen, and many others, ‘Through faith in his blood;’ so that the blood of Christ, as a propitiatory sacrifice, is the ground of the confidence expressed in πίστις, “in Christi sanguine repositam habemus fiduciam.” Calvin. To this it is objected, that the construction of πίστις; with ἐν is altogether unauthorized. But there are so many cases in the New Testament in which this construction must be admitted, unless violence be resorted to, that this objection cannot be allowed much weight. See Gal_3:26; Eph_1:15; Col_1:4; 1Ti_3:13; 2Ti_3:15. Others connect both διὰ πίστεως; and ἐν τῷ αἳματι as distinctly qualifying clauses with i(lasth&rion; the former, as De Wette says, expressing the means of the subjective appropriation, the other the means of the objective exhibition. That is, ‘God has set forth Christ as a propitiation, which is available through faith, and he is a propitiation by his blood. Still another method is to connect ἐν τῷ αἳματι with ὃν: ‘Whom God has set forth in his blood as a propitiation.’ The construction first mentioned, and sanctioned by the translators of the English Bible, gives a perfectly good sense, and is most agreeable to the collocation of the words. The blood of Christ is an expression used in obvious reference to the sacrificial character of his death. It was not his death as a witness or as an example, but as a sacrifice, that expiates sin. And by his blood, is not to be understood simply his death, but his whole work for our redemption, especially all his expiatory sufferings from the beginning to the end of his life.
This whole passage, which Olshausen happily calls the “Acropolis of the Christian faith,” is of special importance. It teaches that we are justified in a manner which is entirely of grace, without any merit of our own; through, or by means of faith, and on the ground of the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is evident from this statement, that Paul intended to exclude from all participation in the meritorious ground of our acceptance with God, not only those works performed in obedience to the law, and with a legal spirit, but those which flow from faith and a renewed heart. The part assigned to faith in the work of our reconciliation to God is that of an instrument; it apprehends or appropriates the meritorious ground of our acceptance, the work or righteousness of Christ. It is not itself that ground, nor the means of attaining an inherent righteousness acceptable to God. This is obvious,
1. Because our justification would not then be gratuitous, or without works. Paul would then teach the very reverse of the doctrine which he has been laboring to establish, viz., that it is not on account of works of righteousness, i.e. works of the highest order of excellence, that we are accepted, since these works would then be the real ground of our acceptance.
2. Because we are said to be justified by faith, of which Christ is the object, by faith in his blood, by faith in him as a sacrifice. These expressions cannot possibly mean, that faith in Christ is, or produces, a state of mind which is acceptable to God.
Faith in a sacrifice is, by the very force of the terms, reliance on a sacrifice. It would be to contradict the sentiment of the whole ancient and Jewish world, to make the design of a sacrifice the production of a state of mind acceptable to the Being worshipped, which moral state was to be the ground of acceptance. There is no more pointed way of denying that we are justified on account of the state of our own hearts, or the character of our own acts, than by saying that we are justified by a propitiatory sacrifice. This latter declaration places of necessity the ground of acceptance out of ourselves; it is something done for us, not something experienced, or produced in us, or performed by us. There is no rule of interpretation more obvious and more important than that which requires us to understand the language of a writer in the sense in which he knew he would be understood by the persons to whom he wrote. To explain, therefore, the language of the apostle in reference to the sacrifice of Christ, and the mode of our acceptance with God, otherwise, than in accordance with the universally prevalent opinions on the nature of sacrifices, is to substitute our philosophy of religion for the inspired teachings of the sacred writers.
To declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. Having stated the nature and ground of the gospel method of justification, Paul comes, in this clause, to state its object: ‘God has set forth Christ, as a propitiatory sacrifice, to declare his righteousness.’ It should be remembered that the object of the death of Christ, being very comprehensive, is variously presented in the word of God. In other words, the death of Christ answers a great number of infinitely important ends in the government of God. It displays “his manifold wisdom,” Eph_3:10, Eph_3:11; it was designed “to purify unto himself a people zealous of good works,” Tit_2:14; to break down the distinction between the Jews and Gentiles, Eph_2:15; to effect the reconciliation of both Jews and Gentiles unto God, Eph_2:16; “to deliver us from this present evil world,” Gal_1:4; to secure the forgiveness of sins, Eph_1:7; to vindicate his ways to men, in so long passing by or remitting their sins, Rom_3:25; to reconcile the exercise of mercy with the requirements of justice, Rom_3:26, etc. These ends are not inconsistent, but perfectly harmonious. The end here specially mentioned is, to declare his righteousness. These words here, as elsewhere, are variously explained.
1. They are understood of some one of the moral attributes of God, as his veracity, by Locke; or his mercy, by Grotius, Koppe, and many of the moderns. Both of these interpretations are forced, because they assign very unusual meanings to the word righteousness, and meanings little suited to the context.
2. Most commentators, who render the phrase ‘righteousness, or justification of God,’ in Rom_1:17, Rom_3:21, God’s method of justification, adopt that sense here. The meaning would then be, that ‘God had set forth Christ as a propitiation, to exhibit his method of justification, both in reference to the sins committed under the old dispensation, and those committed under the new.’ But this is inconsistent with the meaning of δικαιοσύνη, which never has the sense of “method of justification,” and is unsuited to the context.
3. The great majority of commentators understand the δικαιοσύνη Qeou~ here spoken of to be the justice of God. This is the proper meaning of the terms, and this the context demands. Justice is the attribute with which the remission, or passing by, of sins without punishment, seemed to be in conflict, and which therefore required vindication.
It was necessary that the justice of God should be publicly exhibited, because he forgave sin. Besides, the apostle himself explains what he means by δικαιοσύνη when he adds that God set forth Christ as a propitiation, in order that he might be just, and yet justify the ungodly. The satisfaction of justice therefore was the immediate and specific end of the death of Christ. This was indeed a means to a higher end. Justice was satisfied, in order that men might be sanctified and saved; and men are sanctified and saved, in order that might be known, in the ages to come, the exceeding riches of the grace of God.
For the remission of sins, διὰ τήν πάρεσιν κ. τ. λ. This admits of different explanations.
1. Some give διὰ with the accusative the same force as with the genitive; through the forgiveness of sins. That is, the righteousness of God was manifested by means of remitting sins. This is contrary to the proper meaning of the words, and supposes that dikaiosu_nh means goodness. Beza, however, adopts this view, and renders the words, per remissionem; so also Reiche, Koppe, and others.
2. It is taken to mean, as to, as it regards. This gives a good sense, ‘To declare his righteousness, as to, or as it regards the remission of sins.’ So Raphelius (Observationes, etc., p. 241,) who quotes Polybius, Lib. 5, ch. 24, p. 517, in support of this interpretation. This view is given by Professor Stuart. But the preposition in question very rarely if ever has this force. No such meaning is assigned to it by Wahl, Bretschneider, or Winer.
3. The common force of the preposition is retained, on account of. This clause would then assign the ground or reason of the exhibition of the righteousness of God. It became necessary that there should be this exhibition, because God had overlooked or pardoned sin from the beginning. This is the most natural and satisfactory interpretation of the passage. So the Vulgate, propter remissionem, and almost all the moderns.
4. Others again make the preposition express the final cause or object, ‘To declare his righteousness for the sake of the remission of sins,’ i.e., that sins might be remitted.
So Calvin, who says, “Tantundem valet praepositio causalis, acsi dixisset, remissionis ergo, vel in hunc finem ut peccata deleret. Atque haec definitio vel exegesis rursus confirmat quod jam aliquoties monui, non justificari homines, quia re ipsa tales sint, sed imputatione.” But this is a very questionable force of the preposition: See Winer’s Gram., §49, c. The third interpretation, therefore, just mentioned, is to be preferred. The word pa&resij, remission, more strictly means pretermission, a passing by, or overlooking. Paul repeatedly uses the proper term for remission (ἄφεσις) as in Eph_1:7, Heb_9:22 etc.; but the word here used occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Many, therefore, consider the selection of this particular term as designed to express the idea, that sins committed before the advent of Christ might more properly be said to be overlooked, than actually pardoned, until the sacrifice of the Redeemer had been completed; see Wolf’s Curae. Reference is made to Act_17:30, where God is said to have overlooked the times of ignorance. But as the word used by the apostle is actually used to express the idea of remission, in Greek writers (see Elsner) the majority of commentators adopt that meaning here. The words pa&resij and ἄφεσις express the same thing, but under different aspects. They differ only as not punishing, and pardoning. To say that God did not punish sins under the old dispensation, is only a different way of saying that he pardoned them. So “not to impute iniquity,” is the negative statement of justification. This passage, however, is one of the few which the Romanists quote in support of their doctrine that there was no real pardon, justification, or salvation, before the advent of Christ. The ancient believers at death, according to their doctrine, did not pass into heaven, but into the limbus patrum, where they continued in a semi-conscious state until Christ’s descensus ad inferos for their deliverance. The modern transcendental theologians of Germany, who approach Romanism in so many other points, agree with the Papists also here. Thus Olshausen says, “Under the Old Testament there was no real, but only a symbolical forgiveness of sins.” Our Lord, however, speaks of Abraham as in heaven; and the Psalm are filled with petitions and thanksgiving for God’s pardoning mercy.
The words, that are past, seem distinctly to refer to the times before the advent of Christ. This is plain from their opposition to the expression, at this time, in the next verse, and from a comparison with the parallel passage in Heb_9:16, “He is the Mediator for the redemption of sins that were under the first testament.” The words ἐν τῇ ἀνοχῇ, rendered through the forbearance of God, admit of different explanations.
1. They may be connected with the words just mentioned, and the meaning be, ‘Sins that are past, or, which were committed during the forbearance of God;’ see Act_17:30, where the times before the advent are described in much the same manner.
2. Or they may be taken, as by our translators, as giving the cause of the remission of these sins, ‘They were remitted, or overlooked through the divine forbearance or mercy.’
Forgiveness however is always referred to grace, not to forbearance. The former interpretation is also better suited to the context. The meaning of the whole verse therefore is, ‘God has set forth Jesus Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice, to vindicate his righteousness or justice, on account of the remission of the sins committed under the former dispensation;’ and not under the former dispensation only, but also in the remission of sins at the present time, as the apostle immediately adds. The interpretation of the latter part of this verse, given above, according to which τὰ προγεγονότα ἁμαρτήματα, (the sins before committed,) mean the sins committed before the coming of Christ, is that which both the context and the analogy of Scripture demand. In the early Church, however, there were some who held that there is no forgiveness for post-baptismal sins — a doctrine recently reproduced in England by the Rever. Dr. Pusey. The advocates of this doctrine make this passage teach that Christ was set forth as a propitiation for the forgiveness of sins committed before baptism, that is, before conversion or the professed adoption of the gospel. Rückert and Reiche, among the recent German writers, give the same interpretation. This would alter the whole character of the gospel. There could be no salvation for any human being; for all men sin hourly, after as well as before baptism or conversion. No man at any moment of his life is perfectly conformed to the law of God.
Conscience always pronounces sentence against us. There could be no peace in believing, no imputation or possession of righteousness. We should not now be under grace, but under law, as completely as though Christ had never died.
Set forth (proetheto). Second aorist middle indicative. See note on Rom_1:13 for this word. Also in Eph_1:9, but nowhere else in N.T. God set before himself (purposed) and did it publicly before (pro) the whole world.
A propitiation (hilastērion). The only other N.T. example of this word is in Heb_9:5 where we have the “cherubim overshadowing the mercy seat” (to hilastērion). In Hebrews the adjective is used as a substantive or as “the propitiatory place” But that idea does not suit here. Deissmann (Bible Studies, pp. 124-35) has produced examples from inscriptions where it is used as an adjective and as meaning “a votive offering” or “propitiatory gift.” Hence he concludes about Rom_3:25 : “The crucified Christ is the votive gift of the Divine Love for the salvation of men.” God gave his Son as the means of propitiation (1Jo_2:2). Hilastērion is an adjective (hilastērios) from hilaskomai, to make propitiation (Heb_2:17) and is kin in meaning to hilasmos, propitiation (1Jo_2:2; 1Jo_4:10). There is no longer room for doubting its meaning in Rom_3:25.
Through faith, by his blood (dia pisteōs en tōi autou haimati). So probably, connecting en toi haimati (in his blood) with proetheto.
To show his righteousness (eis endeixin tēs dikaiosunēs autou). See note on 2Co_8:24. “For showing of his righteousness,” the God-kind of righteousness. God could not let sin go as if a mere slip. God demanded the atonement and provided it.
Because of the passing over (dia tēn paresin). Late word from pariēmi, to let go, to relax. In Dionysius Hal., Xenophon, papyri (Deissmann, Bible Studies, p. 266) for remission of punishment, especially for debt, as distinct from aphesis (remission).
Done aforetime (progegonotōn). Second perfect active genitive participle of proginomai. The sins before the coming of Christ (Act_14:16; Act_17:30; Heb_9:15).
Forbearance (anochēi). Holding back of God as in Rom_2:4. In this sense Christ tasted death for every man (Heb_2:9).
Set forth (προέθετο)
Publicly, openly (πρό); correlated with to declare. He brought Him forth and put Him before the public. Bengel, “placed before the eyes of all;” unlike the ark of the covenant which was veiled and approached only by the high-priest. The word is used by Herodotus of exposing corpses (v. 8); by Thucydides of exposing the bones of the dead (ii. 34). Compare the shew-bread, the loaves of the setting-forth (τῆς προθεσέως). See on Mar_2:26. Paul refers not to preaching, but to the work of atonement itself, in which God’s righteousness is displayed. Some render purposed or determined, as Rom_1:13; Eph_1:9, and according to the usual meaning of πρόθεσις purpose, in the New Testament. But the meaning adopted here is fixed by to declare.
This word is most important, since it is the key to the conception of Christ’s atoning work. In the New Testament it occurs only here and Heb_9:5; and must be studied in connection with the following kindred words: ἱλάσκομαι which occurs in the New Testament only Luk_18:13, God be merciful, and Heb_2:17, to make reconciliation. Ἱλασμός twice, 1Jo_2:2; 1Jo_4:10; in both cases rendered propitiation. The compound ἐξιλάσκομαι, which is not found in the New Testament, but is frequent in the Septuagint and is rendered purge, cleanse, reconcile, make atonement.
Septuagint usage. These words mostly represent the Hebrew verb kaphar to cover or conceal, and its derivatives. With only seven exceptions, out of about sixty or seventy passages in the Old Testament, where the Hebrew is translated by atone or atonement, the Septuagint employs some part or derivative of ἱλάσκομαι or ἐξιλάσκομαι or Ἱλασμός or ἐξιλασμός is the usual Septuagint translation for kippurim covering for sin, A.V., atonement. Thus sin-offerings of atonement; day of atonement; ram of the atonement. See Exo_29:36; Exo_30:10; Lev_23:27; Num_5:8, etc. They are also used for chattath sin-offering, Eze_44:27; Eze_45:19; and for selichah forgiveness. Psa_129:4; Dan_9:9.
These words are always used absolutely, without anything to mark the offense or the person propitiated.
Ἱλάσκομαι, which is comparatively rare, occurs as a translation of kipher to cover sin, Psa_65:3; Psa_78:38; Psa_79:9; A.V., purge away, forgive, pardon. Of salach, to bear away as a burden, 2Ki_5:18; Psa_25:11 : A.V., forgive, pardon. It is used with the accusative (direct objective) case, marking the sin, or with the dative (indirect objective), as be conciliated to our sins.
Ἑξιλάσκομαι mostly represents kipher to cover, and is more common than the simple verb. Thus, purge the altar, Eze_43:26; cleanse the sanctuary, Eze_45:20; reconcile the house, Dan_9:24. It is found with the accusative case of that which is cleansed; with the preposition περί concerning, as “for your sin,” Exo_32:30; with the preposition ὑπέρ on behalf of A.V., for, Eze_45:17; absolutely, to make an atonement, Lev_16:17; with the preposition ἀπό from, as “cleansed from the blood,” Num_35:33. There are but two instances of the accusative of the person propitiated: appease him, Gen_32:20; pray before (propitiate) the Lord, Zec_7:2.
Ἱλαστηριον, A.V., propitiation, is almost always used in the Old Testament of the mercy-seat or golden cover of the ark, and this is its meaning in Heb_9:5, the only other passage of the New Testament in which it is found. In Eze_43:14, Eze_43:17, Eze_43:20, it means a ledge round a large altar, and is rendered settle in A.V.; Rev., ledge, in margin.
This term has been unduly pressed into the sense of explanatory sacrifice. In the case of the kindred verbs, the dominant Old-Testament sense is not propitiation in the sense of something offered to placate or appease anger; but atonement or reconciliation, through the covering, and so getting rid of the sin which stands between God and man. The thrust of the idea is upon the sin or uncleanness, not upon the offended party. Hence the frequent interchange with ἀγιάζω to sanctify, and καθαρίζω to cleanse. See Eze_43:26, where ἐξιλάσονται shall purge, and καθαριοῦσιν shall purify, are used coordinately. See also Exo_30:10, of the altar of incense: “Aaron shall make an atonement (ἐξιλάσεται) upon the horns of it – with the blood of the sin-offering of atonement” (καθαρισμοῦ purification). Compare Lev_16:20. The Hebrew terms are also used coordinately.
Our translators frequently render the verb kaphar by reconcile, Lev_6:30; Lev_16:20; Eze_45:20. In Lev_8:15, Moses put blood upon the horns of the altar and cleansed (ἐκαθάρισε) the altar, and sanctified (ἡγίασεν) it, to make reconciliation (τοῦ ἐξιλάσασθαι) upon it. Compare Eze_45:15, Eze_45:17; Dan_9:24.
The verb and its derivatives occur where the ordinary idea of expiation is excluded. As applied to an altar or to the walls of a house (Lev_14:48-53), this idea could have no force, because these inanimate things, though ceremonially unclean, could have no sin to be expiated. Moses, when he went up to make atonement for the idolatry at Sinai, offered no sacrifice, but only intercession. See also the case of Korah, Num_16:46; the cleansing of leprosy and of mothers after childbirth, Leviticus 14:1-20; Lev_12:7; Lev_15:30; the reformation of Josiah, 2 Chronicles 34; the fasting and confession of Ezra, Ezr_10:1-15; the offering of the Israelite army after the defeat of Midian. They brought bracelets, rings, etc., to make an atonement (ἐξιλάσασθαι) before the Lord; not expiatory, but a memorial, Num_31:50-54. The Passover was in no sense expiatory; but Paul says, “Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us; therefore purge out (ἐκκαθάρατε) the old leaven. Let us keep the feast with sincerity and truth;” 1Co_5:7, 1Co_5:8.
In the Old Testament the idea of sacrifice as in itself a propitiation continually recedes before that of the personal character lying back of sacrifice, and which alone gives virtue to it. See 1Sa_15:22; Psa_40:6-10; Psa_50:8-14, Psa_50:23; Psa_51:16, Psa_51:17; Isa_1:11-18; Jer_7:21-23; Amo_5:21-24; Mic_6:6-8. This idea does not recede in the Old Testament to be reemphasized in the New. On the contrary, the New Testament emphasizes the recession, and lays the stress upon the cleansing and life-giving effect of the sacrifice of Christ. See Joh_1:29; Col_1:20-22; Heb_9:14; Heb_10:19-21; 1Pe_2:24; 1Jo_1:7; 1Jo_4:10-13.
The true meaning of the offering of Christ concentrates, therefore, not upon divine justice, but upon human character; not upon the remission of penalty for a consideration, but upon the deliverance from penalty through moral transformation; not upon satisfying divine justice, but upon bringing estranged man into harmony with God. As Canon Westcott remarks: “The scripture conception of ἱλάσκεσθαι is not that of appeasing one who is angry with a personal feeling against the offender, but of altering the character of that which, from without, occasions a necessary alienation, and interposes an inevitable obstacle to fellowship” (Commentary on St. John’s Epistles, p. 85).
In the light of this conception we are brought back to that rendering of ἱλαστήριον which prevails in the Septuagint, and which it has in the only other New-Testament passage where it occurs (Heb_9:5) – mercy-seat; a rendering, maintained by a large number of the earlier expositors, and by some of the ablest of the moderns. That it is the sole instance of its occurrence in this sense is a fact which has its parallel in the terms Passover, Door, Rock, Amen, Day-spring, and others, applied to Christ. To say that the metaphor is awkward counts for nothing in the light of other metaphors of Paul. To say that the concealment of the ark is inconsistent with set forth is to adduce the strongest argument in favor of this rendering. The contrast with set forth falls in perfectly with the general conception. That mercy-seat which was veiled, and which the Jew could approach only once a fear, and then through the medium of the High-Priest, is now brought out where all can draw nigh and experience its reconciling power (Heb_10:19, Heb_10:22; compare Heb_9:8). “The word became flesh and dwelt among us. We beheld His glory. We saw and handled” (Joh_1:14; 1Jo_1:1-3). The mercy-seat was the meetingplace of God and man (Exo_25:17-22; Lev_16:2; Num_7:89); the place of mediation and manifestation. Through Christ, the antitype of the mercy-seat, the Mediator, man has access to the Father (Eph_2:18). As the golden surface covered the tables of the law, so Christ stands over the law, vindicating it as holy and just and good, and therewith vindicating the divine claim to obedience and holiness. As the blood was annually sprinkled on the golden cover by the High-Priest, so Christ is set forth “in His blood,” not shed to appease God’s wrath, to satisfy God’s justice, nor to compensate for man’s disobedience, but as the highest expression of divine love for man, taking common part with humanity even unto death, that it might reconcile it through faith and self-surrender to God.
Connect with propitiation (mercy-seat). The sacrifice of Christ becomes effective through the faith which appropriates it. Reconciliation implies two parties. “No propitiation reaches the mark that does not on its way, reconcile or bring into faith, the subject for whom it is made. There is no God-welcome prepared which does not open the guilty heart to welcome God” (Bushnell).
In His blood
Construe with set forth, and render as Rev., by His blood; i.e., in that He caused Him to shed His blood.
To declare His righteousness (εἱς ἔνδειξιν τῆς δικαιοσύνης αὐτοῦ)
Lit., for a shewing, etc. Rev., to shew. For practical proof or demonstration. Not, as so often explained, to shew God’s righteous indignation against sin by wreaking its penalty on the innocent Christ. The shewing of the cross is primarily the shewing of God’s love and yearning to be at one with man (Joh_3:14-17). The righteousness of God here is not His “judicial” or “punitive” righteousness, but His righteous character, revealing its antagonism to sin in its effort to save man from his sin, and put forward as a ground of mercy, not as an obstacle to mercy.
For the remission of sins that are past (διὰ τὴν πάρεσιν τῶν προγεγονότων ἁμαρτημάτων)
Rev., correctly, because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime. Passing over, praetermission, differs from remission (ἄφεσις). In remission guilt and punishment are sent away; in praetermission they are wholly or partially undealt with. Compare Act_14:16; Act_17:30. Ἁμάρτημα sin, is the separate and particular deed of disobedience, while ἁμαρτία includes sin in the abstract – sin regarded as sinfulness. Sins done aforetime are the collective sins of the world before Christ.
Through the forbearance of God (ἐν τῇ ἀνοχῇ τοῦ Θεοῦ)
Rev., in the forbearance. Construe with the passing by. The word ἀνοχή forbearance, from ἀνέχω to hold up, occurs in the New Testament only here and Rom_2:4. It is not found in the Septuagint proper, and is not frequent in classical Greek, where it is used of a holding back or stopping of hostilities; a truce; in later Greek, a permission.
The passage has given much trouble to expositors, largely, I think, through their insisting on the sense of forbearance with reference to sins – the toleration or refraining from punishment of sins done aforetime. But it is a fair construction of the term to apply it, in its primary sense of holding back, to the divine method of dealing with sin. It cannot be said that God passed over the sins of the world before Christ without penalty, for that is plainly contradicted by Rom_1:18-32; but He did pass them over in the sense that He did not apply, but held back the redeeming agency of God manifest in the flesh until the “fullness of time.” The sacrifices were a homage rendered to God’s righteousness, but they did not touch sin with the power and depth which attached to Christ’s sacrifice. No demonstration of God’s righteousness and consequent hatred of sin, could be given equal to that of the life and death of Jesus. Hence Paul, as I take it, says: God set forth Christ as the world’s mercy-seat, for the showing forth of His righteousness, because previously He had given no such manifestation of His righteousness, but had held it back, passing over, with the temporary institution of sacrifices, the sin at the roots of which He finally struck in the sacrifice of Christ.
Whom God hath set forth – Margin, “Fore-ordained” (προέθετο proetheto). The word properly means, “to place in public view;” to exhibit in a conspicuous situation, as goods are exhibited or exposed for sale, or as premiums or rewards of victory were exhibited to public view in the games of the Greeks. It sometimes has the meaning of decreeing, purposing, or constituting, as in the margin (compare Rom_1:13; Eph_1:9); and many have supposed that this is its meaning here. But the connection seems to require the usual signification of the word; and it means that God has publicly exhibited Jesus Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of people. This public exhibition was made by his being offered on the cross, in the face of angels and of people. It was not concealed; it was done openly. He was put to open shame; and so put to death as to attract toward the scene the eyes of angels, and of the inhabitants of all worlds.
To be a propitiation – ἱλαστήριον hilastērion. This word occurs but in one other place in the New Testament. Heb_9:5, “and over it (the ark) the cherubim of glory shadowing the mercy-seat. It is used here to denote the lid or cover of the ark of the covenant. It was made of gold, and over it were the cherubim. In this sense it is often used by the Septuagint Exo_25:17, “And thou shalt make a propitiatory ἱλαστήριον hilastērion of gold,” Exo. 18-20, 22; Exo_30:6; Exo_31:7; Exo_35:11; Exo_37:6-9; Exo_40:18; Lev_16:2, Lev_16:13. The Hebrew name for this was כפּרת kaphoreth, from the verb כּפר kaaphar, “to cover” or “to conceal.” It was from this place that God was represented as speaking to the children of Israel. Exo_25:22, “and I will speak to thee from above the Hilasterion, the propitiatory, the mercy-seat. Lev_16:2, “For I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy-seat.” This seat, or cover, was covered with the smoke of the incense, when the high priest entered the most holy place, Lev_16:13.
And the blood of the bullock offered on the great day of atonement, was to be sprinkled “upon the mercy-seat,” and “before the mercy-seat,” “seven times,” Lev_16:14-15. This sprinkling or offering of blood was called making “an atonement for the holy place because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel,” etc. Lev_16:16. It was from this mercy-seat that God pronounced pardon, or expressed himself as reconciled to his people. The atonement was made, the blood was sprinkled, and the reconciliation thus effected. The name was thus given to that cover of the ark, because it was the place from which God declared himself reconciled to his people. Still the inquiry is, why is this name given to Jesus Christ? In what sense is he declared to be a propitiation? It is evident that it cannot be applied to him in any literal sense. Between the golden cover of the ark of the covenant and the Lord Jesus, the analogy must be very slight, if any such analogy can be perceived. We may observe, however,
(1) That the main idea, in regard to the cover of the ark called the mercy-seat, was that of God’s being reconciled to his people; and that this is the main idea in regard to the Lord Jesus whom “God hath set forth.”
(2) this reconciliation was effected then by the sprinkling of blood on the mercy-seat, Lev_16:15-16. The same is true of the Lord Jesus – by blood.
(3) in the former case it was by the blood of atonement; the offering of the bullock on the great day of atonement, that the reconciliation was effected, Lev_16:17-18. In the case of the Lord Jesus it was also by blood; by the blood of atonement. But it was by his own blood. This the apostle distinctly states in this verse.
(4) in the former case there was a sacrifice, or expiatory offering; and so it is in reconciliation by the Lord Jesus. In the former, the mercy-seat was the visible, declared place where God would express his reconciliation with his people. So in the latter, the offering of the Lord Jesus is the manifest and open way by which God will be reconciled to people.
(5) in the former, there was joined the idea of a sacrifice for sin, Lev. 16. So in the latter. And hence, the main idea of the apostle here is to convey the idea of a sacrifice for sin; or to set forth the Lord Jesus as such a sacrifice. Hence, the word “propitiation” in the original may express the idea of a propitiatory sacrifice, as well as the cover to the ark. The word is an adjective, and may be joined to the noun sacrifice, as well as to denote the mercy-seat of the ark. This meaning accords also with its classic meaning to denote a propitiatory offering, or an offering to produce reconciliation. Christ is thus represented, not as a mercy-seat, which would be unintelligible; but as the medium, the offering, the expiation, by which reconciliation is produced between God and man.
Through faith – Or by means of faith. The offering will be of no avail without faith. The offering has been made; but it will not be applied, except where there is faith. He has made an offering which may be efficacious in putting away sin; but it produces no reconciliation, no pardon, except where it is accepted by faith.
In his blood – Or in his death – his bloody death. Among the Jews, the blood was regarded as the seat of life, or vitality. Lev_17:11, “the life of the flesh is in the blood.” Hence, they were commanded not to eat blood. Gen_9:4, “but flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.” Lev_19:26; Deu_12:23; 1Sa_14:34. This doctrine is contained uniformly in the Sacred Scriptures. And it has been also the opinion of not a few celebrated physiologists, as well in modern as in ancient times. The same was the opinion of the ancient Parsees and Hindus. Homer thus often speaks of blood as the seat of life, as in the expression πορφυρεος θανατος porphureos thanatos, or “purple death.” And Virgil speaks of “purple life….”
Empedocles and Critias among the Greek philosophers, also embraced this opinion. Among the moderns, Harvey, to whom we are indebted for a knowledge of the circulation of the blood, fully believed it. Hoffman and Huxham believed it Dr. John Hunter has fully adopted the belief, and sustained it, as he supposed, by a great variety of considerations. See Good’s Book of Nature, pp. 102, 108, New York edition, 1828. This was undoubtedly the doctrine of the Hebrews; and hence, with them to shed the blood was a phrase signifying to kill; hence, the efficacy of their sacrifices was supposed to consist in the blood, that is, in the life of the victim. Hence, it was unlawful to eat it, as it were the life, the seat of vitality; the more immediate and direct gift of God. When, therefore, the blood of Christ is spoken of in the New Testament, it means the offering of his life as a sacrifice, or his death as an expiation. His life was given to make atonement. See the word “blood” thus used in Rom_5:9; Eph_1:7; Col_1:14; Heb_9:12, Heb_9:14; Heb_13:12; Rev_1:5; 1Pe_1:19; 1Jo_1:7. By faith in his death as a sacrifice for sin; by believing that he took our sins; that he died in our place; by thus, in some sense, making his offering ours; by approving it, loving it, embracing it, trusting it, our sins become pardoned, and our souls made pure.
To declare – εἰς ἔνδειξις eis endeixis. For “the purpose” of showing, or exhibiting; to present it to man. The meaning is, that the plan was adopted; the Saviour was given; he suffered and died: and the scheme is proposed to people, for the purpose of making a full manifestation of his plan, in contradistinction from all the plans of people.
His righteousness – His plan of justification. The method or scheme which he has adopted, in distinction from that of man; and which he now exhibits, or proffers to sinners. There is great variety in the explanation of the word here rendered “righteousness.” Some explain it as meaning veracity; others as holiness; others as goodness; others as essential justice. Most interpreters, perhaps, have explained it as referring to an attribute of God. But the whole connection requires us to understand it here as in Rom_1:17, not of an attribute of God, but of his “plan” of justifying sinners. He has adopted and proposed a plan by which people may become just by faith in Jesus Christ, and not by their own works. His acquitting people from sin; his regarding them and treating them as just, is set forth in the gospel by the offering of Jesus Christ as a sacrifice on the cross. (For the true meaning of this phrase, see the note at Rom_1:17; Rom_3:22.)
For the remission of sins – Margin, “Passing over.” The word used here πάρεσιν paresin occurs no where else in the New Testament, nor in the Septuagint. It means “passing by,” as not noticing, and hence, forgiving. A similar idea occurs in 2Sa_24:10, and Mic_7:18. “Who is a God like unto thee, that passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?” In Romans it means for the “pardoning,” or in order to pardon past transgression.
That are past – That have been committed; or that have existed before. This has been commonly understood to refer to past generations, as affirming that sins under all dispensations of the world are to be forgiven in this manner, through the sacrifice of Christ. And it has been supposed that all who have been justified, have received pardon by the merits of the sacrifice of Christ. This may be true; but there is no reason to think that this is the idea in this passage. For,
(1) The scope of the passage does not require it. The argument is not to show how people had been justified, but how they might be. It is not to discuss an historical fact, but to state the way in which sin was to be forgiven under the gospel.
(2) the language has no immediate or necessary reference to past generations. It evidently refers to the past lives of the individuals who are justified, and not to the sins of former times. All that the passage means, therefore, is, that the plan of pardon is such as completely to remove all the former sins of the life, not of all former generations. If it referred to the sins of former times, it would not be easy to avoid the doctrine of universal salvation.
(The design of the apostle is to showy the alone ground of a sinner’s justification. That ground is “the righteousness of God.” To manifest this righteousness, Christ had been set forth in the beginning of the gospel age as a propitiatory sacrifice. But though at this time manifested or declared, it had in reality been the ground of justification all along. Believers in every past dispensation, looking forward to the period of its revelation, had built their hopes on it, and been admitted into glory.
The idea of manifestation in gospel times, seems most intimately connected with the fact that in past ages, the ground of pardon had been hidden, or at best but dimly seen through type and ceremony. There seems little doubt that these two things were associated in the apostle’s mind. Though the ground of God’s procedure in remitting the sins of his people, during the former economy, had long been concealed, it was now gloriously displayed before the eyes of the universe. Paul has the very same idea in Heb_9:15, “And for this cause he is the Mediator of the New Testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” It may be noticed also that the expression in Heb_9:20, “at this time,” that is, in the gospel age, requires us to understand the other clause, “sins that are past,” as pointing to sin committed under former dispensations. Nor is there any fear of lending support to the doctrine of universal salvation. if we espouse this view. the sins remitted in past ages being obviously those of believers only. The very same objection might be urged against the parallel passage in Heb_9:15.)
Through the forbearance of God – Through his patience, his long-suffering. That is, he did not come forth in judgment when the sin was committed; he spared us, though deserving of punishment; and now he comes forth completely to pardon those sins concerning which he has so long and so graciously exercised forbearance. This expression obviously refers not to the remission of sins, but to the fact that they were committed while he evinced such long-suffering; compare Act_17:30.
26.For a demonstration, etc. The repetition of this clause is emphatical; and Paul resignedly made it, as it was very needful; for nothing is more difficult than to persuade man that he ought to disclaim all things as his own, and to ascribe them all to God. At the same time mention was intentionally made twice of this demonstration, that the Jews might open their eyes to behold it. — At this time, etc. What had been ever at all times, he applies to the time when Christ was revealed, and not without reason; for what was formerly known in an obscure manner under shadows, God openly manifested in his Son. So the coming of Christ was the time of his good pleasure, and the day of salvation. God had indeed in all ages given some evidence of his righteousness; but it appeared far brighter when the sun of righteousness shone. Noticed, then, ought to be the comparison between the Old and the New Testament; for then only was revealed the righteousness of God when Christ appeared.
That he might be just, etc. This is a definition of that righteousness which he has declared was revealed when Christ was given, and which, as he has taught us in the first chapter, is made known in the gospel: and he affirms that it consists of two parts — The first is, that God is just, not indeed as one among many, but as one who contains within himself all fullness of righteousness; for complete and full praise, such as is due, is not otherwise given to him, but when he alone obtains the name and the honor of being just, while the whole human race is condemned for injustice: and then the other part refers to the communication of righteousness; for God by no means keeps his riches laid up in himself, but pours them forth upon men. Then the righteousness of God shines in us, whenever he justifies us by faith in Christ; for in vain were Christ given us for righteousness, unless there was the fruition of him by faith. It hence follows, that all were unjust and lost in themselves, until a remedy from heaven was offered to them.
To declare, I say, his righteousness, etc. This clause is a resumption of what was said before, πρὸς ἔνδειξιν being coordinate with the foregoing εἰς ἔνδειξιν, both depending upon προέθετο: ‘He set him forth εἰς and — πρός.’ The two prepositions have the same sense, as both express the design or object for which anything is done: ‘Christ was set forth as a sacrifice for the manifestation of the righteousness of God, on account of the remission of the sins of old — for the manifestation of his righteousness at this time.’ There were two purposes to be answered; the vindication of the character of God in passing by former sins, and in passing them by now. The words ἐν τῷ νῦν καιρῷ, (at this time,) therefore stand opposed to ἐν τῇ ἀνοχῇ, (during the forbearance.) The death of Christ vindicated the justice of God in forgiving sin in all ages of the world, as those sins were by the righteous God as Olshausen says, “punished in Christ.”
That he might be just, etc., εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν δίκαιον, in order that, as expressing the design, and not merely the result of the exhibition of Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice. This clause therefore expresses more definitely what is meant by εἰς ἔνδειξιν δικαιοσύνηv. Christ was set forth as a sacrifice for the manifestation of the righteousness or justice of God, that is, that he might be just, although the justifier of the ungodly. The word just expresses the idea of uprightness generally, of being or doing what the nature of the case demands. But when spoken of the conduct of a judge, and in reference to his treatment of sin, it must mean more specifically that modification of general rectitude, which requires that sin should be treated according to its true nature, that the demands of law or justice should not be disregarded. A judge is unjust when he allows a criminal to be pronounced righteous, and treated accordingly. On the other hand he acts justly when he pronounces the offender guilty, and secures the infliction of the penalty which the law denounces. What the apostle means to say is, that there is no such disregard to the claims of justice in the justification of the sinner who believes in Christ. This is seen and acknowledged, when it is known that he is justified neither on account of his own acts or character, nor by a mere sovereign dispensing with the demands of the law, but on the ground of a complete satisfaction rendered by his substitute, i.e. on the ground of the obedience and death of Christ. The gratuitous nature of this justification is not at all affected by its proceeding on the ground of this perfect satisfaction. It is, to the sinner, still the most undeserved of all favors, to which he not only has not the shadow of a personal claim, but the very reverse of which he has most richly merited. It is thus that justice and mercy are harmoniously united in the sinner’s justification. Justice is no less justice, although mercy has her perfect work; and mercy is no less mercy, although justice is completely satisfied.
‘Just and the justifier,’ etc. In the simple language of the Old Testament, propositions and statements are frequently connected by the copulative conjunction whose logical relation would be more definitely expressed by various particles in other languages; as Mal_2:14, “Against whom thou hast dealt treacherously, and she was thy companion,” i.e. although she was thy companion. “They spake in my name, and (although) I sent them not;” see Gesenius’s Lexicon. In like manner the corresponding particle in the Greek Testament is used with scarcely less latitude. Mat_12:5, “The priests profane the Sabbath, and (and yet) are blameless;” Rom_1:13, “I purposed to come unto you, and (but) was let hitherto;” Heb_3:9, “Proved me and (although they) saw my works;” see Wahl’s Lex. and Winer’s Gram., §53. So in the present instance it may be rendered, “That God might be just, and yet, or although the justifier,” etc. Him which believeth in Jesus, literally, ‘Him who is of the faith of Jesus;’ so Gal_3:7, “They which are of faith,” for believers; Gal_2:12, “They of the circumcision,” i.e. the circumcised; see Rom_2:8; Rom_4:12, etc. Faith of Jesus, faith of which Jesus is the object; see Rom_3:22. Our version therefore expresses the sense accurately. He whom God is just in justifying, is the man who relies on Jesus as a propitiatory sacrifice. That justification is a forensic act, is of necessity implied in this passage. If to justify was to make subjectively just or righteous, what necessity was there for the sacrifice of Christ? Why should he die, in order that it might be just in God to render men holy? It were an act of mercy to make the vilest malefactor good; but to justify such a malefactor would be to trample justice under foot. The doctrine therefore of subjective justification perverts the whole gospel. It is worthy of remark, that the orthodox interpretation of the meaning of this whole paragraph is acknowledged to be correct, even by those who cannot themselves receive the doctrine which it teaches. Thus Köllner, one of the latest and most candid of the German commentators, says: “It is clear that the true sense of this passage entirely agrees with the doctrine of the Church concerning, vicarious satisfaction, as unfolded in the Lutheran symbols. Nevertheless, although it is certain that Paul intended to teach the doctrine of vicarious satisfaction, not merely as a figure, (or in the way of accommodation,) but as a matter of full personal conviction; yet it is easy to see how he was necessarily led to adopt this view, from the current opinions of the age in which he lived.” He proceeds to show that as the idea of vicarious punishment was incorporated in the Jewish theology, the guilt of the offender being laid upon the head of the victim offered in sacrifice, Paul was unavoidably led to conceive of the work of Christ under this form. As, however, this theory according to Köllner, arose out of a false view of the nature of God, and of his relation to the world, he cannot regard it as a divine revelation. He proceeds to unfold what he supposes to be the eternal truth contained under these Jewish ideas, (unter der Hülle der Zeitvorstellungen,) and presents very much the governmental view of the atonement introduced by Grotius, and reproduced in this country by the younger Edwards and his followers. “Did Paul,” says Köllner, “merely teach that God made a symbolical exhibition of justice in the sufferings of Christ, we might acquiesce in his teaching, but he says more; he constantly asserts that men are justified or constituted righteous through the blood of Christ, Rom_3:21; Rom_5:19; Eph_1:7; Col_1:14.” Such writers are at least free from the guilt of perverting the word of God. They allow the Bible to mean what it says, although they refuse to submit to its teaching. This is better than not only refusing to submit, but forcing the Scriptures to teach our own foregone conclusions. In Germany, the subjection of the Bible to philosophy has come to an end. In this country, it is still struggling for liberty. It is desirable that the separation should here, as there, be made complete, between those who bow to the authority of the word of God, and those who acknowledge some higher rule of faith. Then both parties can agree as to what the Bible really teaches.
26. πρὸς τὴν ἔνδειξιν: to be connected closely with the preceding clause: the stop which separates this verse from the last should be wholly removed, and the pause before διὰ τὴν πάρεσιν somewhat lengthened; we should represent it in English by a dash or semicolon. We may represent the various pauses in the passage in some such way as this: ‘Whom God set forth as propitiatory—through faith—in His own blood—for a display of His righteousness; because of the passing-over of foregone sins in the forbearance of God with a view to the display of His righteousness at the present moment, so that He might be at once righteous (Himself) and declaring righteous him who has for his motive faith in Jesus.’ Gif. seems to be successful in proving that this is the true construction: (i) otherwise it is difficult to account for the change of the preposition from εἰς to πρός; (ii) the art. is on this view perfectly accounted for, ‘the same display’ as that just mentioned; (iii) τῶν προγεγονότων ἁμαρτημάτων seems to be contrasted with ἐν τῷ νῦν καιρῷ; (iv) the construction thus most thoroughly agrees with St. Paul’s style elsewhere: see Gifford’s note and compare the passage quoted Eph_3:3-5, also Rom_3:7, Rom_3:8, 2:Rom_3:14-16.
δίκαιον καὶ δικαιοῦντα. This is the key-phrase which establishes the connexion between the δικαιοσύνη Θεοῦ, and the δικαιοσύνη ἐς πίστεως. It is not that ‘God is righteous and yet declares righteous the believer in Jesus,’ but that ‘He is righteous and also, we might almost say and therefore, declares righteous the believer.’ The words indicate no opposition between justice and mercy. Rather that which seems to us and which really is an act of mercy is the direct outcome of the ‘righteousness’ which is a wider and more adequate name than justice. It is the essential righteousness of God which impels Him to set in motion that sequence of events in the sphere above and in the sphere below which leads to the free forgiveness of the believer and starts him on his way with a clean page to his record.
τὸν ἐκ πίστεως: ‘him whose ruling motive is faith’; contrast οἱ ἐξ ἐριθείας ch. 2:8; ὅσοι ἐξ εργων νόμου (‘as many as depend on works of law’) Gal_3:10.
The Death of Christ considered as a Sacrifice
It is impossible to get rid from this passage of the double idea (1) of a sacrifice; (2) of a sacrifice which is propitiatory. In any case the phrase ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι carries with it the idea of sacrificial bloodshedding. And whatever sense we assign to ἱλαστήριον—whether we directly supply θῦμα, or whether we supply ἐπίθεμα and regard it as equivalent to the mercy-seat, or whether we take it as an adj. in agreement with ὅν—the fundamental idea which underlies the word must be that of propitiation. And further, when we ask, Who is propitiated? the answer can only be ‘God.’ Nor is it possible to separate this propitiation from the Death of the Son.
Quite apart from this passage it is not difficult to prove that these two ideas of sacrifice and propitiation lie at the root of the teaching not only of St. Paul but of the New Testament generally. Before considering their significance it may be well first to summarize this evidence briefly.
(1) As in the passage before us, so elsewhere, the stress which is laid on αἷμα is directly connected with the idea of sacrifice. We have it in St. Paul, in Rom_5:9; Eph_1:7, Eph_1:2:13; Col_1:20 (διὰ τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ σταυροῦ). We have it for St. Peter in 1Pe_1:2 (ῥαντισμὸν αἵματος) and 19 (τιμίῳ αἵματι ὡς ἀμνοῦ ἀμώμου καὶ ἀσπίλου). For St. John we have it in 1Jn_1:7, and in 5:6, 8. It also comes out distinctly in several places in the Apocalypse (1:5, 5:9, 7:14, 12:11, 13:8). It is a leading idea very strongly represented in Ep. to Hebrews (especially in capp. 9, 10, 13). There is also the strongest reason to think that this Apostolic teaching was suggested by words of our Lord Himself, who spoke of His approaching death in terms proper to a sacrifice such as that by which the First Covenant had been inaugurated (comp. 1Co_11:25 with Mat_26:28; Mar_14:24 [perhaps not Luk_22:20]).
Many of these passages besides the mention of bloodshedding and the death of the victim (Apoc. v. 6, 12, xiii. 8 ἀρνίου ἐσφαγμένου: cf. v. 9) call attention to other details in the act of sacrifice (e.g. the sprinkling of the blood, ῥαντισμός 1Pe_1:2; Heb_12:24; cf. Heb_9:13, Heb_9:19, Heb_9:21).
We observe also that the Death of Christ is compared not only to one but to several of the leading forms of Levitical sacrifice: to the Passover (Joh_1:29, Joh_1:19:36; 1Co_5:8, and the passages which speak of the ‘lamb’ in 1 Pet. and Apoc.); to the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement (so apparently in the passage from which we start, Rom_3:25, also in Heb_2:17; Heb_9:12, Heb_9:14, Heb_9:15, and perhaps 1Jn_2:2, 1Jn_2:4:10; 1Pe_2:24); to the ratification of the Covenant (Mat_26:28, &c.; Heb_9:15-22); to the sin-offering (Rom_8:3; Heb_13:11; 1Pe_3:18, and possibly if not under the earlier head, 1Jn_2:2, 1Jn_4:10).
(2) In a number of these passages as well as in others, both from the Epistles of St. Paul and from other Apostolic writings, the Death of Christ is directly connected with the forgiveness of sins (e.g. Mat_26:28; Act_5:30 f., apparently; 1Co_15:3; 2Co_5:21; Eph_1:7; Col_1:14 and 20; Tit_2:14; Heb_1:3, Heb_9:28, Heb_10:12 al; 1Pe_2:24, 1Pe_2:3:18; 1Jn_2:2, 1Jn_2:4:10; Apoc. i. 5). The author of Ep. to Hebrews generalizes from the ritual system of the Old Covenant that sacrificial bloodshedding is necessary in every case, or nearly in every case, to place the worshipper in a condition of fitness to approach the Divine Presence (Heb_9:22 καὶ σχεδὸν ἐν αἵματι πάντα καθαρίζεται κατὰ τὸν νόμον, και χωρὶς αἱματεκχυσίας οὐ γίνεται ἄφεσις). The use of the different words denoting ‘propitiation’ is all to the same effect (ίλαστήριον Rom_3:25; ἱλασμός 1Jn_2:2, 1Jn_2:4:10; ἱλάσκεσθαι Heb_2:17).
This strong convergence of Apostolic writings of different and varied character seems to show that the idea of Sacrifice as applied to the Death of Christ cannot be put aside as a merely passing metaphor, but is interwoven with the very weft and warp of primitive Christian thinking, taking its start (if we may trust our traditions) from words of Christ Himself. What it all amounts to is that the religion of the New Testament, like the religion of the Old, has the idea of sacrifice as one of its central conceptions, not however scattered over an elaborate ceremonial system but concentrated in a single many-sided and far-reaching act.
It will be seen that this throws back a light over the Old Testament sacrifices—and indeed not only over them but over the sacrifices of ethnic religion—and shows that they were something more than a system of meaningless butchery, that they had a real spiritual significance, and that they embodied deep principles of religion in forms suited to the apprehension of the age to which they were given and capable of gradual refinement and purification.
In this connexion it may be worth while to quote a striking passage from a writer of great, if intermittent, insight, who approaches the subject from a thoroughly detached and independent stand-point. In his last series of Slade lectures delivered in Oxford (The Art of England, 1884, p. 14 f.), Mr. Ruskin wrote as follows: ‘None of you, who have the least acquaintance with the general tenor of my own teaching, will suspect me of any bias towards the doctrine of vicarious Sacrifice, as it is taught by the modern Evangelical Preacher. But the great mystery of the idea of Sacrifice itself, which has been manifested as one united and solemn instinct by all thoughtful and affectionate races, since the world became peopled, is founded on the secret truth of benevolent energy which all men who have tried to gain it have learned—that you cannot save men from death but by facing it for them, nor from sin but by resisting it for them … Some day or other—probably now very soon—too probably by heavy afflictions of the State, we shall be taught … that all the true good and glory even of this world—not to speak of any that is to come, must be bought still, as it always has been, with our toil, and with our tears.’
After all the writer of this and the Evangelical Preacher whom he repudiates are not so very far apart. It may be hoped that the Preacher too may be willing to purify his own conception and to strip it of some quite unbiblical accretions, and he will then find that the central verity for which he contends is not inadequately stated in the impressive words just quoted.
The idea of Vicarious Suffering is not the whole and not perhaps the culminating point in the conception of Sacrifice, for Dr. Westcott seems to have sufficiently shown that the centre of the symbolism of Sacrifice lies not in the death of the victim but in the offering of its life. This idea of Vicarious Suffering, which is nevertheless in all probability the great difficulty and stumbling-block in the way of the acceptance of Bible teaching on this head, was revealed once and for all time in Isa_53. No one who reads that chapter with attention can fail to see the profound truth which lies behind it—a truth which seems to gather up in one all that is most pathetic in the world’s history, but which when it has done so turns upon it the light of truly prophetic and divine inspiration, gently lifts the veil from the accumulated mass of pain and sorrow, and shows beneath its unspeakable value in the working out of human redemption and regeneration and the sublime consolations by which for those who can enter into them it is accompanied.
I said that this chapter gathers up in one all that is most pathetic in the world’s history. It gathers it up as it were in a single typical Figure. We look at the lineaments of that Figure, and then we transfer our gaze and we recognize them all translated from idea into reality, and embodied in marvellous perfection upon Calvary.
Following the example of St. Paul and St. John and the Epistle to the Hebrews we speak of something in this great Sacrifice, which we call ‘Propitiation.’ We believe that the Holy Spirit spoke through these writers, and that it was His Will that we should use this word. But it is a word which we must leave it to Him to interpret. We drop our plummet into the depth, but the line attached to it is too short, and it does not touch the bottom. The awful processes of the Divine Mind we cannot fathom. Sufficient for us to know that through the virtue of the One Sacrifice our sacrifices are accepted, that the barrier which Sin places between us and God is removed, and that there is a ‘sprinkling’ which makes us free to approach the throne of grace.
This, it may still be objected, is but a ‘fiction of mercy.’ All mercy, all forgiveness, is of the nature of fiction. It consists in treating men better than they deserve. And if we ‘being evil’ exercise the property of mercy towards each other, and exercise it not rarely out of consideration for the merit of someone else than the offender, shall not our Heavenly Father do the same?