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Paul and the Mercy Seat

In the last post, we looked at some of the images that Paul uses to convey the significance of Jesus’ death. Under the category “religious”, I listed Romans 3:25 as drawing on the imagery of the temple sacrificial system. There is some debate about the translation of the term hilastērion as “propitiation” or “expiation,” with the former meaning emphasizing that Jesus’ death satisfies God’s righteous anger or wrath and the latter meaning focusing on how the impure stain of sin is removed. Other scholars point to how this Greek term is used to translate the “mercy seat” where God was enthroned on the ark of the covenant as a symbol of the divine presence with the people. I find the article by Daniel Bailey entitled “Jesus as the Mercy Seat: The Semantics and Theology of Paul’s Use of Hilasterion in Romans 3:25Tyndale Bulletin 51.1 (2000) 155-158 to be convincing on this issue. For Paul (or perhaps for the earlier writer of this creedal formulation), Jesus’ sacrificial death has made away from sinful humanity to dwell in the presence of a holy God.

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