For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.—2nd Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

Does it mean that he was made to be sin incarnate, just as we say he was love incarnate? Is this a real transformation or just a figure of speech to say he paid the penalty for sin?

  • Welcome to BH.SE! This verse is classically considered difficult to exposit. If you ask about the exegesis or meaning of this phrase, this could be a really good question. As it stands, it is not a great question for this site because one link will gave you the translation of many versions (though none of them may help you understand it). Also, I recommend quoting less of the passage in the question body.
    – Kazark
    Jun 1 '12 at 19:19
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    @Dan... Welcome, I edited it according to Kazark's comments, if that doesn't work we can revert it somehow.
    – Bob Jones
    Jun 3 '12 at 0:27
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    I was afraid to ask for the meaning as that leads to opinions. I am looking for possibilities. However at this point, I'd be happy with anything :D Jun 3 '12 at 2:18
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    I agree with @Kazark that this really isn't a very interesting translation question. The English equivalent is relatively straightforward. Therefore, I removed the translation.
    – Jon Ericson
    Jun 4 '12 at 3:47

I understand this to mean that, while Jesus was (and is) perfect, He was made sin for a time for us on the cross. That is, He took the punishment that bought us peace upon Himself, so that we (who are born again) are not punished for our sins.

Even more scandalous, we take on His righteousness, the righteousness of God! No wonder Grace is called Amazing!


Consider one of the goats on the Day of Atonement (Yom ha-Kippurim).

In Lev. 16:21-22, it is written,

21 And Aharon shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it 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 he shall send it away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness, 22 and the goat shall bear upon it all their iniquities to a land cut-off, and he shall let the goat go in the wilderness.

Here we see that a goat, who otherwise "knew no sin," had "all the iniquities of the children of Israel" imputed to it, and the life of the goat was a substitution for the life of the people of Israel. Likewise, our sins were imputed to Christ, just as his righteousness is imputed to those of us who are "in Christ."

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