(This is the second part of a to part series, view part one here)

A Scrutiny of Sovereignties

Greek Exegesis and Syntax

A close look at the Greek Exegesis and syntax quickly proves what Christ has accomplished is definite. There is absolutely no contingency or plausibility allowed for in the construction. The text never says, “he might be the propitiation” nor, “he is a propitiation.” The phrase καὶ αὐτὸς ἱλασμός ἐστιν (kai autos hilasmos estin) has the structure to fit Collwell’s rule. The “definite predicate nouns which precede the verb usually lack the article;”[1] therefore, the term ἱλασμός (hilasmos) is definite (the propitiation). Defining ἱλασμός (hilasmos) as only eternal-salvific and κόσμος (kosmos) as the whole world without exception, the only way to avoid the charge of universalism is to apply contingency; however, the text does not allow for that.

Therefore, it would seem logical to define κόσμος (kosmos) as the whole world without distinction. However, this does not seem to fit the textual data either.  To argue that the “whole world” is simply “every believer” seems to argue against the text when John says, “not only for our sins.” Which would lead to the question, who is ἡμῶν (hāmōn, “we”) in juxtaposition to “whole world”? Three plausible options will be discussed: 1. Jews 2. Ephesus community 3. Believers.

Some argue that ἡμῶν (hāmōn) refers to just the Jewish people. Therefore, John would be arguing for the Jew and Gentile inclusion. The problem with that is the high plausibility of John being in Ephesus which would have a mixed community of Jews and Gentiles.[2] So, perhaps then John is arguing for the exclusivity of the gospel message not only in Ephesus, but also the whole world. Therefore, ἡμῶν (hāmōn) would refer to the Ephesus community (Jews and Gentiles).  However, the interpreter is hard pressed to maintain this same definition of the implied ἡμῶν (hāmōn) of 1 John 5:19. They would then have to argue there is something unique about the Ephesus community that cannot be said about all other communities of believers (i.e. “not under the power of the evil one”). In conclusion, it is most likely that ἡμῶν (hāmōn) refers to believers in general. Therefore, John is arguing that all unbelievers without exception (besides death), although they are under the power of the evil one, are not under explicit eternal judgement at the present moment and should seek to know Christ.  This interpretation maintains the exclusivity of Christ and merely includes the evangelistic thrust of the beloved Evangelist.

The same thing can be argued out of 1 Timothy 4:10. The living God is depicted as being the savior of all men, especially those who believe. This demands the question, “in what way does God save those who do not believe?” Paul himself rejects notions of universalism, pluralism, and inclusivism (Rom. 10:13-15, 1 Tim. 2:5). This salvation for all nonbelievers cannot refer to anything eternal or postmortem; therefore, it must refer to the unbelievers’ current life while not being under the explicit wrath of God they deserve (common grace). This truth functions as motivation to the believer to toil and strive for every single person and give a bone fide offer of the good news.

In summation, ἱλασμός (hilasmos) is not necessarily eternal-salvific only, but it is certainly definite: no contingency is allowed by the text. Ἡμῶν (hāmōn) refers to every believer without exception, not just the Ephesus community versus the secessionists. And κόσμος (kosmos) refers to every single person without exception (while alive). Therefore, how can it be possible to apply definite propitiation to every single person and not succumb to universalism? The propitiation accomplished by Christ must be dual-faceted.

Theology Proper

Analyzing theology proper from a biblical and systematic perspective has been crucial in understanding penal substitutionary atonement. Understanding the justice and holiness of God has been the crux of understanding the term propitiation. This truth is even more evident for the case for the expanded specific sovereignty model.

“Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25) is a question that resounds in the minds of many especially when coming to the topic of theodicy. In salvation, the question is further applied: “how can God be just and, at the same time, the justifier of wicked men?” Or perhaps more pointedly, “How can God be good and omnipotent and still allow evil to exist?” The question sounds like a zinger to anyone bringing theodicy to its logical conclusions until the definition of “evil” is applied correctly to every single human being without exception (save Christ and those in the glorified state).

In eternal salvation, the answer given is grace. But nearly every evil human being would rightly condemn a judge who gives grace to a criminal who committed a crime unacceptable by society (e.g. mass murder). How is God not also unjust by giving grace to people who have committed sin? Namely, because the punishment was applied to Jesus in the elect’s place (2 Cor. 5:21).  The question still remains for the reprobate who breathes on this earth without experiencing the explicit wrath of God. How is God just in what is often called “common grace”?  How can God be just in giving the reprobate grace even if only for a short period of time (cf. Prov.17:15, 24:24)?

The Bible maintains that the cross is “justification of God” in giving eternal grace to the elect and the “justification of God” in giving temporary (common) grace to the reprobate. When the accuser comes to the throne room in 1942 and cries out, “How can you allow that Adolf Hitler to live right now? Look at all the people he has killed for no reason? You are unjust because he is not experiencing the full force of your wrath he deserves!” It is here the Justice of God himself, Jesus Christ the righteous steps in, “my death allows his breath.” There is no injustice with God! The same death that allowed for the common grace extended to history’s worst people is the same death that extends common grace to every single human being who is conceived (1 Tim. 4:10).

Whole Bible ἱλασμός (hilasmos)

From the very first sin, the reader learns that, according to the Bible, sin earns consequences. Right after Adam and Eve sin, they are kicked out of the garden, out of God’s presence forever (Gen. 3:23). Why? Is God attempting to rehabilitate Adam and Eve and prepare them again for his presence? Is God trying to get some cosmic payback? Is God trying to deter them from sinning further? Or, is God simply giving them what their sin earned? Ultimately God is preventing them from getting to the tree of life so they do not live forever (Gen. 3:22). There is no account of Adam and Eve or their prodigy becoming rehabilitated or deterred from sin due to their exile. In fact, the Bible shows the opposite happening (Gen. 4-6). Even those whom the Bible declare as “righteous” still do not meet the perfect standard of God (Gen. 9:20-21). God also receives nothing from his once perfect viceroys by sending them out of the garden. They are completely dependent upon him as the creator and have no possession to offer him restitution (Gen. 1:26-31). In fact, their removal from the tree of life is merely enacting the promise of death itself. They were told they would earn (retribution) death for eating the fruit from which they were forbidden (Gen. 2:17). That was not all they earned; they also earned separation from the holy God. This idea is especially developed with the tabernacle imagery. The same character guarding the way from Adam and Eve to the tree of life and the presence of God is the same character guarding the way to the presence of God to the Israelites: the cherub (Gen 3:24, Ex. 36:35).

God explains exactly what it takes to get back into his presence while explaining exactly what their sin earned: death/sacrifice (Lev. 16). In order for people to pass the cherub, and enter into the presence of God, they must die. After physical death (one result of sin), the common grace which allows sin to exist outside of wrath is then removed. Then that sinner either must experience the full force of God’s wrath, or God’s wrath must be satisfied by some other means. Although these are eternal realities, God gives us pictures, or types, within our realm. Every propitiation given in the Old Testament is a type pointing to the death of Christ. In Exodus 12, the blood of a lamb saves people from the impending destroyer. Notice: the destroyer, unlike the other plagues, is going after everyone without exception (due to sin). The Israelites are commanded to use the blood of the lamb to satisfy the wrath of the destroyer. Numbers 16:41-50 is another example of temporary grace given to all by means of Aaron’s atonement. Right after the rebellion of Korah, the congregation again (unwisely) come to grumble against Moses. Thus, a plague of God’s wrath (type of his eternal wrath) ensues on the entire congregation, killing thousands until Aaron makes atonement from the fire of the Lord in his censer. Through this propitiation, the wrath of God was stayed from the people, though not necessarily forever.

The entire point of the Passover, the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16), the laws for sacrifices, and the repetition of these sacrifices does not lead the one sacrificing or the priest making atonement to believe “this is enough for eternal salvation”. In fact, it points to the fact that there will have to be one who will provide ultimate sacrifice which actually attains eternal salvation (cf. Heb. 10:1-4). Does the Old Testament provide warrant for Christ’s dual-faceted propitiation? Without a doubt, no other propitiation in the Bible is dual-faceted because only Christ’s death secures eternal salvation. No other propitiation actually affects the eternal, as the author of Hebrews argues, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). Therefore, it is also reasonable to conclude that no other propitiation in the Bible can actually affect the temporary (common grace). Therefore, it is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that provides the only efficacious propitiation both eternally (regeneration, sanctification, glorification) and temporarily (common grace). What is it that really prevented the destroyer on the Day of the Passover or the plague or wrath on the grumbling congregation? The cross of Christ.  The cross is the reality that actually performs what the shadows by nature of their substance cannot.


Jesus Christ accomplished a definite and dual-faceted propitiation. It was limited in its extent to only the elect for eternal salvation, chosen by the eternal decree of God not contingent on human libertarian will. It is also unlimited in its non-salvific extent by the eternal decree of God not contingent on human choice. His death made nothing merely “plausible.” Rather, it carried out his definitive plan for both the reprobate and the regenerate.


[1] Daniel B. Wallace, The Basics of New Testament Syntax: an Intermediate Greek Grammar (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 115.

[2] Robert W. Yarbrough, 1-3 John (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008), 17.