A means of the removal of sin. Where AV used ‘propitiation’ (e.g. Heb. 2: 17), ‘expiation’ is preferred by REB, NJB, and RSV; NRSV has changed it to ‘sacrifice of atonement’. There is a difference in meaning. The situation is that of God in relation to a sinner and how reconciliation can be effected. Is it that an angry God must be propitiated? Or is it that a sin needs to be forgiven and its guilt removed—i.e. the offence expiated? In the OT there was a system of prescribed sacrifices to atone for sins; in the NT the work of Christ has expiated human sin.
‘Expiation’ is a more satisfactory translation than ‘propitiation’, for it denotes the love and mercy of God who has provided means to remove transgressions; whereas ‘propitiation’ implies a God of wrath who needs to be appeased and his anger assuaged by a transaction of dubious morality: the penalty of human sin being transferred to Christ as our substitute and fully endured and satisfied by him.