30 On ‘Redemption as Deliverance from Evil’, see O’Collins, Jesus Our Redeemer, 116 32.

To introduce the topic, we need to notice that, whereas redemption as victorious deliverance enjoys a broader sense of overcoming not only sin but also Satan, death, and evil in all its forms, expiation concerns sin and its results. It would make no sense to talk of ‘expiating death’ or ‘expiating Satan’. Hebrews directs our gaze to the great Day of Expiation, ‘Yom Kippur’, which illustrates classically how sin and expiation are correlative. Any interpretation of the expiatory work of Christ’s priesthood depends on what we make of the damage brought about by those breakdowns in relations with God, our neighbour, and the created world that constitute sin.31

31 On sin, see ibid. 43 80.

Sin, in all its various manifestations, disrupts the life and fabric of the universe. Wrong-doing damages the sinner and produces evil effects in one’s basic relationship with God and in social relationships with other human beings. God is always ready to pardon sinners who allow themselves to be touched by divine grace, acknowledge their guilt, and ask for forgiveness. But God cannot treat an evil past and the lasting damage done by sin as if they were not there. Otherwise, as Anselm of Canterbury pointed out, ‘those who sin and those who do not sin would be in the same position before God’ (Cur Deus Homo, 1. 12). Anselm rightly argued that ‘it is impossible for God to be merciful in this way’ (ibid. 1. 24). First, sinners themselves need to be changed, to face (sometimes painful) readjustment, and to be rehabilitated. Second, some things—at times, many things—must be repaired and set right. The moral order, damaged by sin, needs to be reordered and purified. This is where expiation comes into play. The author of Hebrews, like other early Christians, felt at home with the Old Testament language of purifying the contamination caused by sin. Their symbol world included cleansing with blood among the ritual ways of dealing with the evil results of sin. They could appreciate that the sacrificial death of Jesus was ‘the means of expiating’ these effects through ‘his blood’ (Rom. 3: 25). As Hebrews put it, the blood of Christ, the High Priest who entered once and for all in the heavenly sanctuary, purifies sinners (Heb. 9: 11–14); his self-sacrificing death wipes away the pollution caused by sin.