7

The Greek text of 2 Cor. 5:21 has been translated in various ways:

τὸν γὰρ μὴ γνόντα ἁμαρτίαν ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἁμαρτίαν ἐποίησεν ἵνα ἡμεῖς γινώμεθα δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ

If the translation of ἁμαρτίαν is "sin," then that implies a literal exchange, and the Father's wrath would be on Jesus, under a penal substitution view (I believe it is called). This translation may be found in several versions, including ASV, BBE, ERV, ESV, GW, LITV, etc.

Some other translations say that Jesus was made a "sin offering." As far as I know, this translation may be found in the NLT (the only such translation I encountered).

A few other translations say "God treated him as a sinner" (CEV), as well as "share our sin" (GNB), and "take our sin" (GW).

I have heard that the Greek word can be translated as "sin offering" (like the NLT). Is this true?

Are the translations primarily based on a theological understanding of the atonement? Was it a literal substitution, or not?

6

τὸν μὴ γνόντα ἁμαρτίαν ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἁμαρτίαν ἐποίησεν....1

"For he caused him who knew nothing of sin to be sin for us...."

The preceding vv. 18-20 make it clear that 'he' is θεός (God), and 'him who knew nothing of sin' in this context is Χριστός (Christ). The presence of the article (τὸν) with the participle γνόντα indicates that it functions as a substantive and thus rules out the notions of causation ("since he did not know sin") and concession ("though he did not know sin"). It is participial only in form.

ἐποίησεν occurs with a double accusative in this passage, which indicates a focus on causality.2 This is why I've elected to translate ἐποίησεν as 'caused' rather than merely 'made'.3

When did this identification of Christ with sin take place?

In his commentary on 2 Corinthians, Harris argues that the translation of the second ἁμαρτία in v. 21 deals with the translator's answer to the question, "when did this identification of Christ with sin take place?" He offers two possible options:

  1. The incarnation
  2. The crucifixion

Translations that appear to support the former include:

"... God made him share our sin..." (Good News Translation)

"... God made him one with the sinfulness of man..." (New English Bible)

Those identifying this 'event' as the incarnation often use Romans 8:3 as support, which the New English Bible renders as:

By sending his own Son in a form like that of our own sinful nature, and as a sacrifice for sin, he [God] has passed judgement against sin within that very nature.

Harris believes the context clearly points to the latter event (crucifixion), and so he offers four possible translations for the second ἁμαρτία in v. 21:

  1. Sin offering
  2. Sinner
  3. Sin bearer
  4. Sin

Harris opts for 'sin offering':

It is true that v. 21 makes no explicit reference to the death or the cross of Christ, but this is no objection to the cultic or sacrificial view that localizes the ποίησις in the crucifixion, since the death of Jesus is mentioned three times in vv. 14–15 and διὰ Χριστοῦ (v. 18) is clearly equivalent to διὰ τοῦ θανάτου τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτου [= τοῦ θεοῦ] (Rom. 5:10). According to a long and distinguished tradition, the second ἁμαρτία in v. 21 refers to a “sin offering.”4

BDAG takes ἁμαρτία 'as abstract for concrete (abstractum pro concretothe Dutch version has a specific example)':

As abstr. for concr. τὸν μὴ γνόντα ἁ. ὑπέρ ἡμῶν ἁμαρτίαν ἐποίησεν (God) made him, who never sinned, to be sin (i.e. the guilty one) for our sakes 2 Cor 5:21.5

There is considerable semantic overlap in these translation choices, so rather than discuss each separately, a discussion of the sense of this word is in order (regardless of which specific English word/phrase is used to translate it).

In what sense did Christ become sin?

Thrall further discusses in what sense Christ became sin in this passage in her commentary on 2 Corinthians, presenting two options from the historical interpretation of this passage:

  1. As a sin offering
  2. Christ in some way suffers the fate of sinners

While acknowledging support for 'sin offering', Thrall argues that the context best supports the latter sense:

The presupposition of this line of argument is that death is the ultimate consequence of sin, and so may be seen as its punishment (see Rom 5:12; 6:23). It is true, of course, that Christ did not suffer the eternal death which is sin’s ultimate penalty. But it is doubtful whether the argument should be pressed in this way as constituting an objection to this form of interpretation. In Paul’s view Christ’s death was certainly real (1 Cor 15:3–4) He could well have supposed it to include some experience, however brief, of that separation from the presence of God which he could have seen as the eternal lot of the unregenerate. This brings us to the important consideration that in essence Paul may be thinking of relationships. To say that Christ was made ‘sin’ means that ‘he came to stand in that relation with God which normally is the result of sin, estranged from God and the object of his wrath’. The context, concerned with the theme of reconciliation, would favour this interpretation. It would not be a matter of a death penalty impersonally imposed in accordance with a heavenly system of abstract justice. Rather, Christ’s death would be the consummate experience of that personal alienation from God that has characterised human life from the beginning. Whilst Paul does refer to this death in sacrificial language, and whilst also the passage in Isa 53:9–11 may be in his mind here, the ἁμαρτία is to be understood in terms more personal than that of a ‘sin-offering’, which suggests the objective neutralising and removal of sins rather than a radical change which needs to be brought about in the personal relationship of the sinner with God.6

In what sense is ἁμαρτία generally used most frequently in the NT?

This sense chart was generated using Logos v6 showing the sense of ἁμαρτία throughout the New Testament texts:

'sin' sense chart

The three other passages where the sense of 'sin offering' appears to be intended all occur in the epistle to the Hebrews (10:6, 8, 26, note that Paul's authorship of this epistle is debated). In other words, there isn't much precedent for such a reading in the New Testament in general, and none at all for Paul (assuming he was not the author of Hebrews). I believe it is more likely that the sense explained above by Thrall was intended.

Decisions about the text concerning when and in what sense Christ became sin will affect how this passage is interpreted. The reader must infer from context which interpretation is best. Hopefully this answer makes the reader more aware of some of these interpretive challenges and how some scholars have responded to them.

I prefer translating ἁμαρτία simply and consistently as 'sin' and understanding the second use as metonymy (which preserves the ambiguity, allowing the reader to infer a specific sense and accompanying soteriological theory from the context for him or herself). 7


1 Eberhard Nestle et al., Universität Münster. Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung, Novum Testamentum Graece, 27. Aufl., rev. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelstiftung, 1993), 2 Co 5:21a.

2 William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 839-40 (cf. definition 2, section h, paragraph β).

3 Although 'made' carries a sense of causality anyways, so this translation choice isn't that big of a deal.

4 Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Milton Keynes, UK: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.; Paternoster Press, 2005), 451-2.

5 Arndt, Danker, & Bauer, 51.

6 Margaret E. Thrall, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle of the Corinthians, International Critical Commentary (London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), 441–442.

7 In the interest of keeping this brief (both in length and the amount of time I spend answering), I have omitted discussion of the remainder of this passage. While this is critical to understanding the meaning in context (particularly the sense in which followers of Christ become the righteousness of God and how/if this is analogous to the sense in which Christ became sin), the current response answers the question(s) asked by the OP.

3

The Greek word ἁμαρτίαν is a noun declined in the accusative case, singular number from the lemma ἁμαρτία, a feminine gender noun. It occurs 174 times in the Textus Receptus.

In Heb. 10:6, it is actually translated as “sacrifices for sin.” Contextually, that is the appropriate translation as Heb. 10:6 is a quotation of Psa. 40:6. However, unlike 2 Cor. 5:21, the Greek text of Heb. 10:6 has «περὶ ἁμαρτίας», which is typically the Greek phrase we find in the LXX used to translate the Hebrew word חֲטָאָה or חַטָּאָת when it is used in the context of “sin offering.”

To complicate matters, it’s not always the case that «περὶ ἁμαρτίας» is used to translate those Hebrew words when used in the context of sin offering. For example, in Lev. 6:25, where the context involves “the law of the sin offering,” the Hebrew תּוֹרַת הַחַטָּאת is translated into the LXX as «ὁ νόμος τῆς ἁμαρτίας» rather than «ὁ νόμος περὶ τῆς ἁμαρτίας».1

Therefore, grammatically, the lack of the preposition «περί» cannot be used as conclusive evidence that the apostle Paul intended to say that God made Jesus Christ “sin for us,” as opposed to a “sin offering.”

That being said, even if Christ was made a sin offering, a sin offering (like a lamb) had the sin of the sinner imputed to it by the priest laying his hands upon the offering’s head. The sin offering itself (the lamb) never knew or committed its own personal sin.


Footnotes

1 also cp. Lev. 4:21

1

Your first question seems to be "should it be translated sin or a sin offering"? I'm inclined to think "sin offering".

Your question seems to be "was it a literal substitution or not?" The answer to that question is "not". "Substitution" (as in "strict substitution") is one of the several incorrect "theories of the atonement".

The verse in question begins with γὰρ which means essentially "because" and thus explains why the apostles pray, on God's behalf, that the Corinthians would "reconcile themselves to God" (subjunctive deponent).

To understand how God making Jesus to be a sin offering allows the Corinthians to reconcile themselves to God and become the righteousness of God one has to understand the mechanics of Yom Kippur.

On Yom Kippur the high priest would bring two goats; one for a sin offering and one as a scapegoat. The one for the sin offering was intended as an expression of remorse for all of the transgressions of the people:

Lev 16:15 Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the vail, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat: Lev 16:16 And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness.

This allowed the priest to proceed to lay the sins of the people on the living goat to be carried off into the wilderness. This is the image of the forgiveness of sins which is the righteousness of God:

Lev 16:20 And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat: Lev 16:21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: Lev 16:22 And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.

So in the context of "reconciling yourselves to God because..." and the Yom Kippur, the death of Jesus becomes the sin offering that allows the sinner to approach to God in order to be forgiven for their sins by God. To the Hebrews uses the same figure:

Heb 10:19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, Heb 10:20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; Heb 10:21 And having an high priest over the house of God; Heb 10:22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.

Heb 4:14 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. Heb 4:15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Heb 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

0

I have been taught to explain difficult passages (or passages that don't offer enough information for clarity) by looking at other passages that relate to the same subject but shed more light so as to make the difficult passage easier to understand. Romans 3 is a chapter that explains 2 Cor. 5:21 in my opinion. Having concluded all (Jew and Gentile) guilty of sin Paul begins talking about justification in verse 21. He states there is a way we can have right standing with God without the Law of Moses, and that way is by the righteousness of Jesus. Paul calls it the free gift of grace in Christ Jesus, note that the grace is "IN CHRIST". In verse 25 Paul explains why Jesus had to be offered as a sacrifice for sin. Because God is just, he could not excuse away the sins that were overlooked when the high priest entered the holy place on Yom Kippur to atone for the sins of the people, those sins had to be legally dealt with because the law states that the penalty for sin is death. Jesus therefore atoned for all the sins God overlooked under the first covenant to uphold the righteousness of God, for without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness for sin. When Jesus ascended to heaven he carried his blood into the heavenly tabernacle to obtain redemption for all those who would come to him by faith (Heb. 9:11-12). There is no substitution of sin to Jesus, God never left him alone, and the propitiation (mercy seat) is in heaven looking for all who will come to him with a true heart and faith (Heb. 10:22).

0

  i don't deny penal substitution otherwise why would Jesus need to suffer unto death for our sins as a substitute (the just for the unjust), nor do I deny propitiation, expiation or reconciliation by Father's hand through wicked men that which affected Father being pleased by the bruising and grief He caused His Son to undergo.

What I don't accept is that for our sins Father's wrath was upon His Son when Jesus became our substitute and scapegoat leveticus 16.

Isaiah reveals that people reckoned Him smitten by God under His wrath for His own sins BUT for our sins transferred upon Him was the Chastisement (Musar #4148)of our peace with Father upon Jesus and through His scourging we are healed.

And why KJV 1 Corinthians 12:3 is stated

Hebrews 5 further clarifies Isaiah 53:5 as the type of suffering He went through and why for our sins.

No where in scripture where suffering was pronounced upon Jesus did it involve wrathful judgement but only corrective discipline of which teaches those whom God accepts as ligitimate human sons and daughters in order to cause obedience.

Jesus did not of Himself need to suffer such correction while human as He was Sinless in His ways but because of His substitution as our living atoning scapegoat is why Father was pleased to bruise and cause grief unto death towards His ligit son whom underwent such corrective suffering to learn obedience for our sake as our High priest. whom can sympathize with us when we upon salvation struggle against sin.

We elect of God although conceived in sin as the non-elect were not created to remain under such wrath but created to be accepted as ligitimate children of Father and an brother or sister to Jesus. Our sins were not to lead to remain in death as the non-elect because God intended to intervene and free us from such Bondage through Jesus whom satisfied God to while Sinless in the likeness and not exactness of sinful flesh as the elects substitute, undergo such suffering unto death voluntarily.

He suffered corrective discipline unto death to learn obedience for our sins that don't lead to spiritual death as an set example of how God deals with ligitimate adopted children whom struggle against sin by progressive sanctification.

As why Jesus said that if we want to be His disciples we must pick up our own pole and( luke14:26) in order to follow after His example.

If the suffering and death of Jesus had anything to do with undergoing Wrath, Jesus would not use His suffering in life unto death as an set example for us to follow in His steps.(john 1:26)

So it is why and what Jesus suffered while Sinless as our substitute and ransom that at such a great price in His Sinless sons volunteered death that appeased Father to nullify His wrath toward those whom He intended to redeem and reconcile with.

God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked, if PSA is as most theologians think, being  that Jesus became the embodiment of sin as our scapegoat then you say  such statements from God in Ezekiel 18:23 Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord God, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?

And

Ezekiel 33:11 Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’

Is false.

Father is only pleased in the suffering he caused towards His ligit Son through discipline and scourging, even if such scourging leads to death.

Proverbs 3:12 For whom YHVH loveth He disciplines, Even as a father the son He is pleased with.

Father is pleased in His Sons suffering and death because of what His chastening and scourging accomplished. Not because he supposedly became the embodiment of sin as our substitute and scapegoat to then suffer a wrathful death.

Faith in Jesus life, death, burial and resurrection by Father as Sinless while undergoing chastening and scourging as a received Son for our sins was the great ransom price that redeeems us and saves the elect from God's wrath.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.