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Adam and Eve, created in an absolutely pristine environment, did what is now in hindsight

the most unthinkable thing and disobeyed the only prohibition that they were given. By choosing to

satisfy their basic appetites the couple cast the world into a chaos and confusion that has lingered

eternally. Their collective action resulted in the introduction of an etymology in which man is

forever caught in a whirlpool of selfishness and humanism, where God has become totally and

uniquely irrelevant and insignificant; Man became the epitome of himself ± a being that held no

regard for the God of heaven ± ³like sheep gone astray«everyman to his own way.´

It was God in his sovereignty that set in motion a divine initiative for a redemptive work in

history. The books of Exodus through to Deuteronomy are records of the inception and initiation of

this action plan to bring man back to himself. It is in these books of the Old Testament that we get a

masked picture of the initiative of salvation, sufficient for that time. The centre of this miraculous

and historic unfolding surrounds the establishment of the tabernacle of God that was erected at the

centre of the camp of Israel. The meticulous nature with which the instructions for this temple were

communicated and the care that was given in following the instructions to the ³T´ were not only a

matter of architectural or engineering significance or excellence, but more importantly, it was a

representation of the desire of God to bring back to himself man whom he created and to dwell in

his fullness in their midst. It was a demonstration of what would then be revealed in its fullness in

the pages of the New Testament.

Chapters 26 ± 40 of Exodus testify to the great detail given by God in the construction of

this tabernacle ± a tabernacle finally completed in chapter 40 of the text. Of prominence in this

tabernacle was the Holy of Holies, the quintessential representation and resting place of the

presence and power of God on earth among his chosen people Israel. It is within the holy of holies,

that the high priest made temporary atonement for himself and for the nation of Israel, via the blood
of bulls and rams for sins and transgressions, and it is there before the Ark of the Covenant that God

would forgive the sins of his own.

Fast forward to the New Testament centuries later and we are presented with a fuller picture

of the redemptive work of God in history. Through His son Jesus Christ, God brought to completion

his divine prerogative to restore man to himself ± a salvation that is both complete and continuous.

It is in the words penned in Romans 3: 21 ± 26 more than any other location in the book of Romans

that the theological intersections of this divine initiative are elucidated by the great orator Paul.

³Rarely does the bible bring together in so few verses so many important theological ideas: the

righteousness of God, justification, the shift in salvation history, faith, sin, redemption, grace

propitiation, forgiveness and the justice of God.´1 As such the importance and significance of the

act of the son of God and the son himself may represent a reformation of the transcendental starting

point in this parenthesises called time and redemptive history. The advent of Christ, his death,

burial and resurrection represents the establishment of a new covenant under which justification and

redemption were no longer garnered through temporary sacrifices as the blood of animals but

through the incomparable atoning blood of the Lamb of God. The practices of the Old Testament

were brought to fruition in the New Testament, convened by and through Jesus Christ himself.




Î Î 





Douglas J. Moo, The NIV Application Commentary, Romans, (Grand Rapids Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 125.
Charles John Ruppert, GNT, Online Greek New Testament, [resource on-line], available from, internet, accessed
V ut now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets
testify. V his righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. here is no difference,
V Vfor all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, V and are justified freely by his grace through the
redemption that came by Christ Jesus. V God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.
He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand
unpunished ʹ V he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies
those who have faith in Jesus. ʹ (New International Version), NIV.

There are many versions and translations of the original Greek manuscripts part of which is

outlined above. The poetical King James Version is very often the version of choice for most

readers of the Bible, primarily because it may have been one of the first versions to have been

published but also for its poetical language. However, this version may not satisfactorily represent a

proper interpretation of the text in Romans outlined above. This version is rather hard to read and

uses an antiquated language. There are a number of versions that will be used in this paper the

primary one being the New International Version of the Bible (NIV). This is not saying that other

versions will not be employed. However, the intention of this paper is to give as close as possible an

accurate interpretation of the spirit¶s intention in the text as well as to do justice to the original

Greek manuscript. As such this version of the Bible will be used along with translations that may

help our cause in this paper ± in our look at the third chapter of Romans.

The book of Romans is the longest and most theologically significant of Paul¶s letters. The

gospel as the righteousness of God by faith occupies centre stage for the first part of the book (1:18

± 4:25).3 Paul paves the way for this theme by explaining why it was necessary for God to manifest

his righteousness and why humans can experience this righteousness only by faith. Sin, Paul

affirms, has gained a stranglehold on all people, and only an act of God, experienced as a free gift

through faith, can break through that stranglehold. God¶s wrath, the condemning outflow of his holy

anger, stands over all sinners and justly so. For God has made himself known to all people through

creation; their turning from him to gods of their own making renders them without excuse (Romans

1). As such Paul makes a claim that only God can change the tragic state of affairs, and this he has
D. A Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 2005), 391.
done by making himself available, through the sacrifice of his son, a means of becoming righteous,

or innocent, before God. This justification can be gained only through faith. It is with this in mind

that Paul penned the words and theological nuances in this the third chapter of his letter to the


Verse 21 ± 26 may represent the heart and the centre of the main division of which it is a

part. In fact it may be said that it is the heart of the whole section that spans Romans 1:16b ± 15:13.

Paul continues his earlier discourse which he began in chapter 1, and the gospel he presents expands

on the theme of justification by faith. Paul in his discourse takes a detour from the main line of his

argument in chapter 1 to show why God¶s intervention in Christ was needed and then resumes his

argument in chapter 3. An examination of this pericope in chapter three shows that the language of

³righteousness´ (3: 21, 22, 25, 26), ³justify´ (24, 26), and ³just´ (v. 26) dominates this paragraph.

All these English words come from the Greek root v  and as such develop one basic theme. Paul

in this assertion alludes to the idea that there is a new and different way of being seen as righteous

in the eyes of God; this idea of righteous therefore is intimately linked to the idea of justification in

light of the discourse.

The term justification or justify does not mean to ³subjectively change into a righteous

person´ but instead means ³to declare righteous,´ specifically, to declare righteous upon the act of

faith based upon the work of another, the divine substitute Jesus Christ.4 Justification then involves

both the forensic, legal declaration of the righteousness of the believer as well as the grounds and

basis of their acceptance. The fact is that the righteousness of Christ which is imputed to the

believer accounts for the resulting perfection of the relationship between the believer and God. As

Romans 5:1 states, ð 


   The righteousness of God that has been imputed to men is as a

Chad rand et al, volman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville, ennessee; Holman Reference, 2004), 970.
result of God, in the court yards of heaven declaring men to be righteous. Thus we are judged to be

not guilty by a decisive divine decision of God himself.

But there is much more that is significance about this text than meets the eye. Poignantly

this passage stands out in its proclamation of the fact that the one decisive, once for all, redemptive

act of God through which was declared righteous and just, the revelation both of the righteousness

which is from God and also of the wrath of God against sin, the once for all revelation which is the

basis of the continuing revelation of the righteousness (1:17) and of the wrath (1:18) of God in the

preaching of the gospel, has now taken place. It shows unequivocally, according to Cranfield, that

the heart of the gospel preached by Paul is a series of events in the past. It includes all that God did

before the advent of Jesus as well as the elements of the ultimate exaltation of Christ; elements

because the cross by itself would have been no saving act of God. This gospel includes the

crucifixion, the resurrection and the exaltation of the Crucified. It is a series of events which is the

event of history; the decisive act of God which is altogether effective and irreversible.5 It is through

the crucifixion, resurrection and exaltation of the crucified that God¶s righteousness has been

revealed. This righteousness which is God¶s method of bringing men into right relation to Himself,

is a definite righteousness, is available to all who put their faith in Jesus Christ and is a

righteousness ³apart from the law.´

Of particular note is the phrase µBut now¶ (r ÎÎ followed by the perfect tense. It could

be understood as either (1) logical or (2) temporal in force and may be the source of some

contention.6 Cranfield in his analysis states that in light of   the contention of some

commentators that Ê Ê has a purely logical force in this verse must surely be rejected and its

temporal significance firmly maintained. It emphasizes the fact that the contrast marked by Î - so

C.E. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Epistle To The Romans, (Edinburgh:  &  Clark Limited 38 George Street, 1985), 199
ʹ 200.
6, Net ible First Edition, Software package, 1996 ʹ 2005, iblical Studies Press
far from being merely a contrast between two ideas, that of justification Î Î

of justificationÎ
%is a contrast between the impossibility of justification by works, on

the one hand, and on the other hand, the fact that in the recent past a decisive event has taken place

by which justification which is God¶s free gift&  %is now % ¨ ÊAs such

this phrase may be accepted as referring to a new phase in salvation history.  


Î is formally a statement about 

Îbut it also is a statement

about the Old Testament; for it affirms that the righteousness which is of God is not only attested to

by the Old Testament but that the Old Testament is a witness to this righteousness.Paul captures

beautifully the continuity and discontinuity in God¶s plan of salvation and this is the relation. God in Jesus

reveals His righteousness in Christ ³apart from the law´ of Moses. Like the ³old wineskins´ of Jesus¶ Parable

(Mark 2:22) the Mosaic covenant simply cannot contain the ³new wine´ of the gospel. This is the

discontinuity. However, the continuity is expressed in the idea that the entire ³Old Testament´ (the Law and

the Prophets) testifies to this new work of God in Christ. The cross is no afterthought, no ³plan B;´ it has

been God¶s intention from the beginning to reveal his saving righteousness by sending His son as a sacrifice

for us.

God¶ s righteousness ³has been known´ can literally be translated ³has been manifested´ ±

the verb being in the perfect tense in contrast to the present tense in chapter 1:17. This according to

Gaebelein, draws attention to the appearing of Jesus Christ in the arena of history or more

specifically, points to the fulfilment of God¶s saving purpose in him.8 This righteousness ±

justification that is now imputed onto man is a free gift given to man by God through ³faith in Jesus


The translation ³faith in Jesus Christ´ appears in all modern translations but there is a

contending view that is being adopted today, a genitive construction ± ³faith of Jesus Christ´

Ibid, 201.
Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor͛s Bible Commentary with The New International Version of The voly Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan
Publishing House, 1977), 41.
Î The NIV takes this genitiveto be objective, that is, that Jesus Christ is

the object of the noun of ³faith.´ But it can equally be a subjective genitive according to Moo, with

Jesus Christ being the subject of ³faith.´10Gaebelein concurs with the subjective genitive view of

the phrase when he asserts that the word'()*+)*,evidently means faithfulness. Evidence of

this is seen when one takes a glance at the book of Mark 11:22 which seems to make it is clear that

the    of God may mean faith in God, as the situation there requires. What should settle the

matter therefore is the precedent in Galatians 2:16, where we find the identical phrase´ through faith

of Jesus Christ´ followed by the explanatory statement, ³we believe in Christ Jesus.´ As such both

phrases, ³faith in Jesus´ and ³faith of Jesus´ may not oppositional ideologies but may actually

speak of the same thing. Consequently according to Gaebelein, the NIV translation should be

regarded as legitimate and preferable.11The point therefore is thatsalvation and justification comes

only through faith in Jesus and not by works. The idea of such divine attributes being gained by

works is a doctrine that is polemically denied in the bible. It was Paul himself that stated in

Ephesians 2: 8, ð    




  Salvation therefore is

fundamentally a miracle and initiative of God towards the liberation of men from sin and oppressive

systems that have kept men from fulfilling their duty to God and living a life of worship to the

Christ of history and eternity.

Even though the advent of Christ has removed the necessity of justification through the

insufficient law, it does not mean that such justification through faith in Christ took place without

the impetus of the law. This may be the assumption that is gleaned by the use of the phrase Î

an adverbial phrase that modifies ʌİijĮȞȑȡȦIJĮȚ (a present indicative passive). However,

Douglas J. Moo, The NIV Application Commentary, Romans, 127
Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor͛s Bible Commentary with The New International Version of The voly Bible, 41.
according to Cranfield, this may not be the meaning here, since it is clear that Paul did not think that

the law was absent at the time of the manifestation referred to. On the contrary passages like

Galatians 3: 13 and 4: 4 suggest that he thought that it was deeply involved in the gospel events.

According to him, the words are most naturally understood in relation to Î Î
and Î

in verse 20 ± as indicating that the righteousness of God (

Î of which verse 20
and 21 speak is manifest as something which has not been earned by men¶s fulfilment of the law.12

As such 

Îshould be understood in the same way as it is understood in 1: 17, that it is

a status of righteousness that is a gift from God.

This status of righteousness has been made available to all men on the earth as a result of the

universality of sin. Sin in many respects is the central identifying feature of this fallen race. As such

Paul states that ³there is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.´ There

is no distinction between Jew and Gentile. All are under sin¶s power and all fall short. In like

manner all are declared righteous or justified by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ

Jesus. The execution of the declaration of justice on the behalf of the guilty is described by  ÎÎ

 !by means of redemption.


Redemption means ³to pay a price in order to secure the release of something or someone.

It connotes the idea of paying what is required in order to liberate from oppression, enslavement or

another type of binding obligation.´13 In the Old Testament two word groups were used to connote

redemption. The verb  ! and its cognates mean to ³buy back´ or ³to redeem.´ In the book of

Ruth for example, (Ruth 2:20), Boaz acts as kinsman-redeemer to secure the freedom of Ruth from

poverty and widowhood. Boaz purchases the land of Elimelech and in so doing, ³redeems´ Ruth

Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Epistle To The Romans, 201.
Chad rand et al, volman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville, ennessee; Holman Reference, 2004), 1370.
and takes her to be his wife. When  !  is used of God, the idea is redemption from bondage or

oppression, typically from one¶s enemies. "  another Old Testament word,is primarily used

with regard to the redemption of persons or living things and may refer to general deliverance from

trouble or distress.

In the New Testament, the words  

and  #
are used in reference to redemption.

The former meaning ³to redeem,´ ³to liberate,´ ³or ³to ransom´ and suggests the heart of Jesus¶

mission. His life and ministry ended in his sacrificial death. The latter is used often to express God¶s

redemptive activity in Christ. For example, God¶s redemption of fallen humanity is costly and

believers are liberated from the enslaving curse of the law.14

In our text, according to Cranfield, the interpretation of  ÎÎÎ


controversial. While some like Warfield and Morris assert that the thought of ± Êa ransom paid,

is present in the word Î

 !here,15others maintain that it means simply µdeliverance,¶

µemancipation,¶ without any reference to the payment of a ransom.16 Cranfield in his discourse

comes to the conclusion that an absolutely confident assertion of either view can hardly be justified;

for, on the one hand, the possibility that Paul used Î

 !here without any thought of a

ransom paid cannot be ruled out in face of the evidence of the Septuagint¶s use of ±    and

other derivatives of ± Êand on the other hand, in view of the fact that µin the use of the word

± Êand its derivative in Greek literature, there is a marked consistency in the retention of the

ransom idea.17 Additionally, he makes the claim that the wordÎ

 !is often used in

connection with the manumission of slaves (in which a payment was involved). This is an idea that

Ibid, 1371.
.. Warfield, The New Testament Terminology of Redemption, in PR 15 (1917), 201 ʹ 49. L. Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of The Cross,
(London), 1955. Quoted in Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Epistle To The Romans, 201.
Cambier, L͛Evangile de Dieu I pp.84f. Quoted in Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Epistle To The Romans, 201.
Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Epistle To The Romans, 206.
would have been familiar to many of Paul¶s readers.18 In other words, the Greek words employed

in this text with reference to the redemption of men, seems to suggest the notion of God freeing the

enslaved, sinful men and women from the power and influence of sin by paying the price for our

sins. This price is necessarily the blood of his son Jesus Christ. This freeing of slaves ± slaves to sin

- involves God paying the price, to ³buy back´ man to himself and free him from the one to whom

he was enslaved ± sin. Scripture it self attests to this idea of God paying the ransom for the freedom

of men. Many scripture verses attest or seem to confirm to the view of a price being paid for the

freedom of the enslaved to sin, for example, 1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23, refer to Christians being

³bought with a price´, along with other supporting texts including Gal 3:13, Mark 10:45 and 1 Peter

1:18. As such Cranfield summarizes by saying that the possibility that Paul had in mind the thought

of a ransom being paid when he used the word Î

 !cannot be excluded and as such we

must leave the discussion open. What can be said about  ÎÎÎ
 !however is that it

indicates that the believer¶s righteous status has been brought about by God by means of a definite

and decisive action on His own part. The fact that the phrase is linked with 
 means, that

the slavery from which this action of God has redeemed us must be the slavery of sin in the sense of

subjection to its effects, that is God¶s condemnation, His wrath, the condition of having an

unrighteous status before him.

Morris posits something similar in his analysis of the idea of redemption. He too alludes to

the notion of the release of prisoners of war or slaves or slaves under sentence of death all of which

included the paying of a price. However, he alludes to a metaphorical meaning of the idea of

redemption but still maintains that it is freedom after payment that gives these metaphorical

meanings their meaning. Paul and other biblical authors portray Christ¶s sacrifice as a ³ransom´ a

price paid to secure the release of captives. Bu the question that one must necessarily ask is to

Ibid, 207
whom did God pay this ransom? The answer given by many theologians was Satan. The church

fathers in the Patristic period argued that because of sin, the devil had the right to keep people

captive to himself. Human beings sinned, and the devil therefore had control of them. In order to

secure their release, God had to pay the devil a ransom, the death of Christ. So popular was this

interpretation that Gustaf Aulen called it the ³classic´ view of the atonement. But the Bible no

where teaches any ransom aid to the devil. The Biblical writers repeatedly used the concept of

redemption to connote that God in Christ had to liberate people from slavery to sin and that He paid

the price to accomplish this. Moo calls this the points of contact between ³secular´ redemption and

what God has done n Christ. Biblical writers nowhere speculate on whom the ransom was paid to.

Their silence here suggests that this was not part of the analogy they were using. If one really wants

to argue the point about a ransom being paid to someone, then the most probable person to whom

that ransom would have been paid must be God since sin makes us debtors to him.19 Therefore

according to Morris, ³we must look at redemption as a way of looking at the cross which brings out

certain details of Christ¶s work but which cannot be pressed in every detail.´20

This latter theory is the one that seems most likely to be given the situation and context of

the scriptures; God, may never or could never regard the devil, a lesser being than himself (in every

sense of the word) to be worthy of any form of payment. It seems evident from the discussion,

therefore, that the redemptive work of God in history emphasizes not so much the paying of a price,

but the appeasement of the anger of a Holy God, by the sacrifice of his Son and the manumission ±

the setting free of men from the power and shackles of sin - from the shackles and bondages of sin

that kept them chained without hope of escape. It is the fact of God setting men free by the

sacrificial blood of his Son that makes redemption the theological truth that it is. It is God liberating

Norman Geisler, Öystematic Theology, Volume Three, Öin and Öalvation, (Minneapolis, Minnesota; ethany House, 2004), 224.
Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William . Eerdmans Publishing Company; Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity
Press, 1997), 179.
humanity from such a phenomenon and the custody that was cancelled thereby came about because

of man¶s guilt, on account of which they were shackled to the results of sin, according to the divine

justice. The idea of God paying the price then through the sacrifice of his son could be viewed as a

metaphorical analogy geared towards communicating the idea that God took the initiative to liberate

men. Such liberation necessarily would be gained through the blood of His Son, apart from whom,

permanent forgiveness for sins could not be effected. From the stand point of humanity, the act of

God in freeing man should be seen in just that light ± God liberated or set men free from

enslavement and the medium of such freedom was His Son. According to Schlatter, because Paul

links sin with death, the liberation from guilt is also the deliverance from the sentence of death that

is based on guilt, and because our destiny of death is associated with the condition of our body, Paul

could say concerning the body that it would also be freed by redemption.21 Jesus ³paid´ the ultimate

sacrifice so that man can be set free ± liberated from the curse of sin and its effects.

Because of this redemptive work the blessings of God that comes with being set free, µfor

whom the son sets free is free indeed,¶ are made available to all who believe on the name of Christ.

Those who have been set free are no longer enslaved to sin or it¶s effects but can live a victorious

life founded on the notion that Christ, through the work on the cross has liberated mankind from the

powers and shackles of sin. He has spoiled principalities and powers and made a show of them

openly and has led captivity captive. We have been liberated and as such can live lives that are pure

and upright, without yielding to the powers of the former slave master. Paul says later in chapter 4

of Romans, ³For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be

done away with, that 



 The benefit that redemption brings in this life, according to Ephesians 1:7, is

forgiveness of sins, and this is applicable in our passage. Another aspect however, belonging to the

Adolf Schlatter, Romans: The Righteousness of God, ranslated by Siegfried S. Schatzmann, (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers Inc,
1995), 97.
future, is the redemption of the body which will consummate our salvation according to Romans 8:

23; Ephesians 4:30.

Justification and redemption however, are not single individual events that happen in this

parenthesis called time; they are left null and void if one fails to consider that in order for them to

have taken effect blood had to be shed ± there had to be a blood sacrifice. There had to have been

atonement. Jesus was this atonement.


The NIV version states that ³God presented him [Christ] as a sacrifice of atonement,´ while

the King James calls him ³a propitiation.´ There is much dissention among the ranks of the

theologians about the Greek word ȜĮıIJ ȡȚȠȞ ((  ) (translated in the NIV µsacrifice of

atonement or as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin), which ³in form is an

adjective that could be taken as either masculine or neuter´22 In secular Greek culture, this word and

its cognates often refer to various means by which the wrath of the gods could be ³propitiated.´23 A

sacrifice was offered or monument dedicated, acts that served to ³turn away´ the wrath of a god.

Many interpreters think Paul uses the word in this sense and as such translate the word

³propitiation´ or ³appeasement.´ In the minds of other theologians this word, ȜĮıIJ ȡȚȠȞ, may refer

to a ³place of satisfaction,´ referring to the place where God¶s wrath toward sin is satisfied. More

likely, though, it refers specifically to the ³mercy seat,´ i.e., the covering of the ark where the blood

was sprinkled in the Old Testament ritual on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).

C.H. Dodd, in his analysis of the word ȜĮıIJ ȡȚȠȞ, and true to his distaste for the idea of God¶s

wrath, used the word to mean ³expiate.´ This word refers to wiping away or forgiving sins (where the subject

of that action is human), or where the subject is God, God being gracious, having mercy and forgiving. He

Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor͛s Bible Commentary with The New International Version of The voly Bible, 43.
Douglas J. Moo, The NIV Application Commentary, Romans, 128.
further states that no allusion to God¶s wrath is included.24 Thus Dodd was diametrically opposed to the idea

of propitiation or appeasement. Morris on the other hand has shown that in many if not all of the passages in

which ȜĮıIJ ȡȚȠȞ or its infinitive is used, the idea of God¶s wrath is present.25 As such Dodd failed to pay

adequate attention to the contexts of these words¶ occurrences.

Morris in another of his publications asserts that a number of translations see a reference to sacrifice

and this may be justified by the use of the term µblood¶ in the passage and further by the fact that the verb

cognate with the noun being discussed is commonly used in the Septuagint to say that such-and-such a

sacrifice was offered ³to make atonement.´ However it must be born in mind that the verb in such

expressions mean ³to make atonement´ not ³to offer sacrifice´ and further that the noun we have is not the

atonement word, but is only related to it. As such he concludes that the usage of the noun shows that it means

³propitiation,´ and that those who advocate a meaning like ³propiatory sacrifice´ might be right.26 Morris

therefore is against the ³mercy seat´ interpretation of the word. In his view there is no example of the word

unqualified referring to the mercy seat. Moreover the same word is used in the Septuagint of other things,

such as the ledge of the alter in Ezekiel 43:14. It seems clear therefore that the word is understood to signify

³means of propitiation´ or ³propitiatory thing.´ This according to him is a description that could on occasion

apply to the mercy seat, but it could also refer to other things. He states:

We need more that the simple, unqualified use of the word to see here reference to that article of
tabernacle furniture. We should also bear in mind that the mercy seat was hidden from the public
gaze (nobody ever saw it except the high priest, and he only once a year), whereas here the context
stresses what is in the open. 27

Shedd supports this assertion by saying that a comparison to the mercy seat ³upon the face of it seems

incongruous´ Their conclusion: Few of those who hold to this view really face the fact that an unexplained

Douglas J. Moo, The NIV Application Commentary, Romans, 129. Quoting C. H. Dodd, ͞ ȜĮıIJ ȡȚȠȞ,´ its Cognates, Derivatives and Synonyms
in the Septuagint,͟ JS 32 (1931): 353 ʹ 60.
Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Epistle To The Romans, 21. Quoting L. Morris, ͚The use of Î Î 
Greek!in E 62 (1950 ʹ 51), pp. 227 ʹ 33.
Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, 181.
Ibid, 182
likening of Christ to a blood-sprinkled lid would be very curious. ³Means of propitiation´ is surely the


ȜĮıIJ ȡȚȠȞ however, is used in reference to the mercy seat of Leviticus 16, in twenty one out of the

twenty-seven occurrences in the Septuagint and in its only other occurrence in the New Testament, (Hebrews

9:5), the possibility that Paul is using it in that sense here in Romans and thinking of Christ as the anti-type

of the Old Testament mercy-seat must clearly be taken seriously. N. S. L. Fryer in his analysis of the

word concludes that the term is a neuter accusative substantive best translated ³mercy seat´ or

³propitiatory covering,´29 D. P. Bailey in his own analysis on the passage in Romans 3: 25 argues

that this is a direct reference to the mercy seat which covered the ark of the covenant.30 From earlier

times Paul has often been so understood, and this view of ȜĮıIJ ȡȚȠȞ is upheld by many writers.

Schlatter states that the author makes a link between keporet with kipper, ³to atone,´ and as such

ȜĮıIJ ȡȚȠȞ became the name of the cover that was placed on top of the sacred ark, upon which the

cherubim were positioned and upon which the high priest sprinkled blood on the Day of Atonement

and states that ³although ȜĮıIJ ȡȚȠȞ was now rendered neuter, its active meaning µeffecting

forgiveness, according to grace to the guilty¶ is not lost.´31

One objection that is held against the mercy seat interpretation of this word is that in the

passage in Hebrews referred to above, the word is accompanied by the definite article; however, in

this passage the word is void of it. This is not an insuperable objection, for if Paul is intent on

stressing that Christ is the antitype of the Old Testament mercy seat, he would naturally omit the

article so as to avoid identifying Christ with a material object.

But more significant is the objection that any reference to the mercy seat is incongruous, since that

article was withheld from public view and access. However in the New Testament, the death of Christ

N. S. L. Fryer, ͞The Meaning and Translation of vilasterion in Romans 3:25,͟ EvQ 59 (1987): 99-116,
D. P. ailey, ͞Jesus As the Mercy Seat: he Semantics and heology of Paul͛s Use of vilasterion in Romans 3:25͟ (Ph.D. diss., University of
Cambridge, 1999).
Adolf Schlatter, Romans: The Righteousness of God, ranslated by Siegfried S. Schatzmann, 98.
opened up what had formerly been concealed and inaccessible to the people ± symbolic of the renting of the

veil in the temple (Matt 27: 51; Mark 15: 38). As far as Romans is concerned, the word ³presented´ is a sign

post suggesting a similar concept here. If Paul here recalls the furnishings of the tabernacle and the

tradition of Israel¶s festivals, he clarifies his statement concerning the redemptive power of the

death of Jesus in this way that the law already provided a process that mediated forgiveness to the

community comprised of sinners, as well as the ability to remain in the divine grace. In order for an

act like this to be possible, the cover was upon the ark in the holy of holies, as the symbol of the

God present in the sanctuary and among his people. He was removed from the sight of everyone

else and positioned in the accessible darkness of the holy of holies; but once each year to become

the locus of the sprinkling of blood with which the assurance of the forgiving grace was associated.

While the locus of grace was hidden and inaccessible to Israel and more so to the nations, he

through whom God has granted deliverance to all is proclaimed to all and the access to him opened

up to all. T. W. Manson remarks, ³the mercy-seat is no longer kept in the sacred seclusion of the most holy

place: it is brought out into the midst of the rough and tumble of the world and set up before the eyes of

hostile, contemptuous, or indifferent crowds´32 Indeed, Christ has become the mediator or the go between in

the struggle of God and man where the mercy of God is available because of the sacrifice of the son. Nygren

supports the mercy seat interpretation by noting that the very terms used by Paul in the passage tally with the

Old Testament setting in Exodus 25 ± the manifestation of God, his wrath, his glory, the blood and the mercy


However, the idea of Christ being the ³mercy seat´ as well as ³our propitiation´ does not have to be

one that is in stark contrast to the other. Perhaps there is room for both of these interpretations in the New

Testament writings of Paul. The concept of propitiation is not limited to Paul¶s writings. In the Old

Testament sacrificial system, the offering was made before the Lord and there it took effect as well: ³The

priest shall burn it on the alter, upon the offerings by the fire to the Lord; and the priest shall make atonement

Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor͛s Bible Commentary with The New International Version of The voly Bible, 41. Quoting T. W Manson (JTÖ 46)
1945, 5.
for [the sinner] for the sin which he has committed, and he shall be forgiven´ (Lev. 4:35). Similar passages

could be found in Leviticus 16. As such Erickson asks the question can there be any doubt, especially in

view of God¶s anger against sin that this verse points to an appeasement of God? How else can we interpret

the statement that the offering should be made to the Lord and forgiveness would follow?33

Exodus 25 gives a detailed description of God¶s direction for the building of the Ark of the

Covenant. In verse 17 and 22, the object of great concern is the atonement cover. It is the location upon

which the Priest once every year would locate himself and make sacrifice for the entire nation of Israel for

one entire year. The noun is ʺʓʸʖ˝ʔ˗ (‘ ), translated ³atonement lid´ or ³atonement plate.´ The

traditional translation being ³mercy-seat´ (so KJV, ASV, NASB, NRSV) came from Tyndale in

1530 and was also used by Luther in 1523. The noun is formed from the word ³to make

atonement.´ The item that the Israelites should make would be more than just a lid for the ark. It

would be the place where atonement was signified. The translation of ³covering´ is probably

incorrect, for it derives from a rare use of the verb, if the same verb at all (the evidence shows

³cover´ is from another root with the same letters as this). The value of this place was that Yahweh

sat ³enthroned´ above it, and so the ark essentially was the ³footstool.´ Blood was applied to the lid

of the box, for that was the place of atonement. When God look down before the blood was applied,

he would see the commandments that were written on the two tablets of stone that were hid within

the Ark of the Covenant. This would necessarily act as a yoke around the neck of the Israelites and

would be the source of the wrath and the judgment of God on the people of Israel. But just like the

Passover recorded in Exodus 12, when the blood was applied and God looked down from between

the Cherubims, atonement was made at the mercy seat of God and the sins of the people were

forgiven for a while ± a period of one year. This atonement nevertheless being a temporary

atonement, ð     



Millard J. Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine, Edited by L. Arnold Hustad, (Grand Rapids, Michigan; aker ook House, 1999), 251.

%  & 


The picture of the Tabernacle given in the Old Testament was but a pre-figure of the true

tabernacle that was to be inaugurated in the New Testament. This tabernacle would then be

transformed from a temple made with hands to the temple of the heart. The only condition which

did not change was the condition of the heart of man and the necessity for atonement. This

atonement however, had to be diametrically different from the atonement made in the Old

Covenant, where the blood of rams and bulls were offered. But separate and apart from this form of

atonement, this atonement was a two pronged fork in its application. Leviticus 16 records this idea.

In the instruction presented there, Aaron, the high priest had to select two goats one to act as a

sacrifice ± a sin offering to be butchered for the sins of the people of Israel and the other to be a

µscape¶ goat ± to make atonement by sending it away into the wilderness - the two goats together

forming one sacrifice, one of them being killed, and the other µlet go,¶ there being no other

analogous case of the kind except at the purification of a leper, when one bird was killed and the

other dipped in its blood, and let go free.

Thus these two sacrifices²one in the removal of what symbolically represented indwelling

sin, the other contracted guilt²agreed in requiring two animals, of whom one was killed, the other

µlet go.¶ It should be noted according to Edersheim, that the sins of the people were confessed not

on the goat which was killed, but on that which was µlet go in the wilderness,¶ and that it was this

goat²not the other²which µbore upon him all the iniquities¶ of the people. So far as the

conscience was concerned, this goat was the real and the only sin-offering µfor all the iniquities of

the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins,¶ for upon it the high-priest laid the

sins of the people, after he had by the blood of the bullock and of the other goat µmade an end of
reconciling the Holy Place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar¶ (Lev 16:20).34 The

blood sprinkled had effected this; but it had done no more, and it could do no more, for it µcould not

make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience¶ (Heb 9:9). The symbolical

representation of  perfecting was by the live goat, which, laden with the confessed sins of the

people, carried them away into µthe wilderness¶ to µa land not inhabited.¶ The only meaning of

which this seems really capable, is that though confessed guilt was removed from the people to the

head of the goat, as the symbolical substitute, yet as the goat was not killed, only sent far away, into

µa land not inhabited,¶ so, under the Old Covenant, sin was not really blotted out, only put away

from the people, and put aside till Christ came, not only to take upon Himself the burden of

transgression, but to blot it out and to purge it awayNot only was the atonement of Christ a

propitiatory event but it was also a substitutionary phenomenon.

Several considerations indicate that Christ did indeed take our place. First there is a whole

set of passages which tell us that our sins were ³laid upon´ Christ, He ³bore´ our iniquity, ³He was

made sin´ for us. One prominent instance is in Isaiah 53: ³All we like sheep have gone astray we

have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all´ (vs 6);

He ³was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for

the transgressors´ (v. 12b). On seeing Jesus, John the Baptist exclaimed, ³Behold, the Lamb of

God, who takes away the sin of the world!´ (John 1:29). Paul said, ³For our sake he made him to be

sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God´ (2 Cor. 5:21). The

common idea in these several passages is that just like how the goat in Leviticus 16 ³bore´ the sins

of the nation and took them away from the nation it self, Christ completed that work and not only

took away the sins of the world but totally annihilated it so that it was not covered but totally done

away with.

Alfred Edersheim, The Temple ʹ Its Ministry and Öervices, Electronic Pdf. Document
The coming of the Christ, the son of God heralded the freedom of men from the oppressive

shackles of sin and shame and has given birth to the unspeakable gift of grace by which we are

saved through faith. It is the faith that comes by trusting in the divine initiative of God that man is

declared righteous in the court house of heaven and is redeemed by the precious blood of the lamb.

This lamb through his atonement sacrifice has not only taken away the sins of the world but has also

acted as the final arbiter between God and man.


Bailey, D. P. ³Jesus As the Mercy Seat: The Semantics and Theology of Paul¶s Use of (    

in Romans 3:25.´ Ph.D. diss., University of Cambridge, 1999. / 0   1 

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T Clark Limited 38 George Street. 1985. Quoting LMorris6$Î Î 

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