ESV Bible Blog quoted Andrew Ow's explanation on "propitiation", and showed why the English Standard Bible chose this theological terminology in translating "hilasmos".

I remembered a good illustration from the Mid-Year Conference 3-4 years ago, where "propitiation" used by ESV is constrasted against "expiation" used by RSV. "Propitiation" means "dealing with one's anger", and it is more than just "compensating" ala "expiation".

For example, I might accidentally smash Vivian's favourite plate into pieces. To expiate, I'll just say, "D'oh. I smashed the plate. I will just go out and buy another one." Compensation has been paid -- but in this case I am not really treating Vivian as a person, who has feeling and emotions, and might still be angry at me because the new one I bought is not her plate.

However to propitiate, besides doing my best to find a matching plate, I will also apologise to her, do the laundry, bring her to Yum-Cha on the following Saturday, and hope that she will no longer be angry at me.

What does that imply? Yes, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and Jesus has paid for it. However we also need to remember that this penalty is more than just something we owe God, but because our sin -- the rejection of our Creator -- God is in fact angry at us.

Confronting this God is more than facing a policeman waiting to collect your speeding fine, but meeting your angry parents, who loved us so much, but were furious because of the things we did.