2:2 and he himself is the atoning sacrifice 1 for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world. 2
1 John 4:10Context
4:10 In this 3 is love: not that 4 we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice 5 for our sins.
1 tn A suitable English translation for this word (ἱλασμός, Jilasmos) is a difficult and even controversial problem. “Expiation,” “propitiation,” and “atonement” have all been suggested. L. Morris, in a study that has become central to discussions of this topic (The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 140), sees as an integral part of the meaning of the word (as in the other words in the ἱλάσκομαι [Jilaskomai] group) the idea of turning away the divine wrath, suggesting that “propitiation” is the closest English equivalent. It is certainly possible to see an averting of divine wrath in this context, where the sins of believers are in view and Jesus is said to be acting as Advocate on behalf of believers. R. E. Brown’s point (Epistles of John [AB], 220-21), that it is essentially cleansing from sin which is in view here and in the other use of the word in 4:10, is well taken, but the two connotations (averting wrath and cleansing) are not mutually exclusive and it is unlikely that the propitiatory aspect of Jesus’ work should be ruled out entirely in the usage in 2:2. Nevertheless, the English word “propitiation” is too technical to communicate to many modern readers, and a term like “atoning sacrifice” (given by Webster’s New International Dictionary as a definition of “propitiation”) is more appropriate here. Another term, “satisfaction,” might also convey the idea, but “satisfaction” in Roman Catholic theology is a technical term for the performance of the penance imposed by the priest on a penitent.
sn The Greek word (ἱλασμός, Jilasmos) behind the phrase atoning sacrifice conveys both the idea of “turning aside divine wrath” and the idea of “cleansing from sin.”
2 tn Many translations supply an understood repetition of the word “sins” here, thus: “but also for the sins of the whole world.”
3 tn Once again there is the (by now familiar) problem of determining whether the referent of this phrase (1) precedes or (2) follows. Here there are two ὅτι (Joti) clauses which follow, both of which are epexegetical to the phrase ἐν τούτῳ (en toutw) and explain what the love of God consists of: first, stated negatively, “not that we have loved God,” and then positively, “but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
4 tn The two ὅτι (Joti) clauses are epexegetical to the phrase ἐν τούτῳ (en toutw) which begins the verse.
sn What is important (as far as the author is concerned) is not whether we love God (or say that we love God – a claim of the opponents is probably behind this), but that God has loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice which removes believers’ sins. This latter point is similar to the point made in 2:2 and is at the heart of the author’s dispute with the opponents, because they were denying any salvific value to Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, including his death on the cross.
5 sn As explained at 2:2, inherent in the meaning of the word translated atoning sacrifice (ἱλασμός, Jilasmos) is the idea of turning away the divine wrath, so that “propitiation” is the closest English equivalent. God’s love for us is expressed in his sending his Son to be the propitiation (the propitiatory sacrifice) for our sins on the cross. This is an indirect way for the author to allude to one of the main points of his controversy with the opponents: the significance for believers’ salvation of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, including especially his sacrificial death on the cross. The contemporary English “atoning sacrifice” communicates this idea more effectively.