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the righteousness of God in him. 2nd Corinthians 5:21 (KJV)

I have not found a sufficient examination on this site for the true interpretation of this verse. I read my Russian bible primarily and it says this:

Ибо не знавшего греха Он сделал для нас [жертвою за] грех, чтобы мы в Нем сделались праведными пред Богом. 2-е Коринфянам 5:21 (Russian Synodal Version)

Here it states in brackets, that is added for context and further meaning, that Jesus was a "sin offering". I don't know Greek, but the word ἁμαρτίαν (hamartia G266) seems to mean "committing an offence". From what I understand, the Russian Synodal Version and KJV both used Textus Receptus. Theologically I agree with "sin offering" and always have. I am disappointed in the way that the English and western translations have translated it.

The latter part of the verse also differs but that can be made into a different question entirely ("made the righteousness of God in Him" vs. "in Him made righteous before God").

Which one translation is correct?

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On this verse, the Russian Synodal Version is not a faithful translation of the Greek original.

Jesus was the perfect offering, not an imperfect sin offering. He was made to be identified with sin itself. He himself had no sin.

Galatians 3:13a

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us,

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(21) For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin.--The "for" is omitted in many of the best MSS., but there is clearly a sequence of thought such as it expresses. The Greek order of the words is more emphatic: Him that knew no sin He made sin for us. The words are, in the first instance, an assertion of the absolute sinlessness of Christ. All other men had an experience of its power, gained by yielding to it. He alone gained this experience by resisting it, and yet suffering its effects. None could "convict Him of sin" (John 8:46). The "Prince of this world had nothing in Him" (John 14:30). (Comp. Hebrews 7:26; 1Peter 2:22.) And then there comes what we may call the paradox of redemption. He, God, made the sinless One to be "sin." The word cannot mean, as has been said sometimes, a "sin offering." That meaning is foreign to the New Testament, and it is questionable whether it is found in the Old, Leviticus 5:9 being the nearest approach to it. The train of thought is that God dealt with Christ, not as though He were a sinner, like other men, but as though He were sin itself, absolutely identified with it. So, in Galatians 3:13, he speaks of Christ as made "a curse for us," and in Romans 8:3 as "being made in the likeness of sinful flesh." We have here, it is obvious, the germ of a mysterious thought, out of which forensic theories of the atonement, of various types, might be and have been developed. It is characteristic of St. Paul that he does not so develop it. Christ identified with man's sin: mankind identified with Christ's righteousness--that is the truth, simple and yet unfathomable, in which he is content to rest.

Pulpit Commentary concurs:

Many have understood the word "sin" in the sense of sin offering (Leviticus 5:9, LXX.); but that is a precarious application of the word, which is not justified by any other passage in the New Testament. We cannot, as Dean Plumptre says, get beyond the simple statement, which St. Paul is content to leave in its unexplicable mystery, "Christ identified with man's sin; man identified with Christ's righteousness." And thus, in Christ, God becomes Jehovah-Tsidkenu, "the Lord our Righteousness"

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  • It is interesting that in the Synodal version, both ideas of "Christ identified with man's sin; man identified with Christ's righteousness" are missing by means of translating it as "sin offering" and "made righteous" vs. "to be sin for us" and "made the righteousness of God in him". The commentaries provide good insight that I haven't seen before. Perhaps it has to do with the theological approach of the translators, Orthodox church vs. Protestant based. – Coder909 Jan 22 at 17:12
  • Glad you see that. The commentaries are from biblehub.com/2_corinthians/5-21.htm. – Tony Chan Jan 22 at 17:32
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The verb is poeio ('made') which is a very broad concept covering both 'make' and 'do' in English. 'Effected' is, I would say, a better translation.

In God's eyes, sin was accounted to him. Sin itself. Sin which came into the world.

That God sees sin in him, at Golgotha, is all that is required for it to be so. And sin is seen being destroyed when Jesus yields up the spirit and expires.

The sin of the world is taken away in his death.

Those who, knowing their liability in Adam, that sin is within them by nature, look upon Jesus Christ, in his sufferings and death and bloodshed, in faith, shall live.

Even as they who, bitten by serpents, looked upon the brasen serpent in the wilderness, lived, and did not die of the plague.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. [John 3:14,15 KJV]

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We should clearly distinguish between an atonement metaphor such as the sanctuary system and the theological reality, the removal of our sin. The Bible talks about the reality of Jesus taking our sins many times - here is a sample of what is known as the great "Divine Exchange" -

  • 2 Cor 5:21, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
  • Gal 1:4, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.
  • Gal 3:13, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. For it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.
  • John 3:16, For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
  • 2 Cor 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor
  • Isa 53:4-6, Surely He took on our infirmities and carried our sorrows; yet we considered Him stricken by God, struck down and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

That is, Jesus was treated as we deserve so that we can be treated as He deserved. The Pulpit commentary puts it this way:

Many have understood the word "sin" in the sense of sin offering (Leviticus 5:9, LXX.); but that is a precarious application of the word, which is not justified by any other passage in the New Testament. We cannot, as Dean Plumptre says, get beyond the simple statement, which St. Paul is content to leave in its unexplicable mystery, "Christ identified with man's sin; man identified with Christ's righteousness." And thus, in Christ, God becomes Jehovah-Tsidkenu, "the Lord our Righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:6). That we might be made the righteousness of God in him; rather, that we might become.

This is often stated another way - Jesus took the responsibility for our sin because we could not; we are helpless sinners! Paul discusses this again in Phil 2:5-11.

This idea was illustrated on during Jesus crucifixion - when the "iniquity of us all" was laid upon Jesus, darkness came over the land (Luke 23:44, 45) and Jesus called out, "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?" It is almost as if God could not look upon the accumulated sin of the world.

Such is the great love that God and Jesus had for us that they would do this for sinners Note Paul's expression in Rom 5:6-11 -

For at just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Therefore, since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from wrath through Him! For if, when we were enemies of God, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! Not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Bengel succinctly states it this way:

2 Corinthians 5:21. Τὸν) Him, who knew no sin, who stood in no need of reconciliation;—a eulogium peculiar to Jesus. Mary was not one, ἡ μὴ γνοῦσα, who knew no sin.—ἁμαρτίαν ἐποίησε, made Him to be sin) He was made sin in the same way that we are made righteousness. Who would have dared to speak thus, if Paul had not led the way? comp. Galatians 3:13. Therefore Christ was also abandoned on the cross.—ἡμεῖς) we, who knew no righteousness, who must have been destroyed, if the way of reconciliation had not been discovered.—ἐν αὐτῳ, in Him) in Christ. The antithesis is, for us.

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