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Question: Did Jesus literally become sin and a curse for us? Let’s look at the two scriptures that this question derives from:

  1. II Corinthians 5:21 – “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

  2. Galatians 3:13 – “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:” To have a proper understanding of any scriptures dealing with the nature of Christ, it is imperative to know the essential doctrines dealing with the nature and attributes of GOD THE FATHER and of GOD THE SON. Knowing these essential doctrines will keep us from interpreting a scripture in a way that violates the nature of Christ:

Note: See previous blogs for a full discussion of these doctrines. 1. THE NATURE & ATTRIBUTES OF GOD THE FATHER: a. God is a Spirit b. God is infinite in His Being c. God is eternal in His Being d. God is Unchangeable in His Being e. God is Infinite, Eternal, and Unchangeable in His Wisdom f. God is Infinite, Eternal, and Unchangeble in His Holiness. Justice, and Goodness g. God is Infinite, Eternal, and Unchangebe in His Truth 2. THE NATURE & ATTRIBUTES OF GOD THE SON (JESUS): a. Jesus is God (2nd person of the Godhead) b. In the incarnation (when Jesus assumed human form), Jesus was still God. Scripture verses such as: Philippians: 2:1-11, John 1:1-3 , Colossians 1:15-17, & Titus 2:13 boldly tell us that Jesus is God. Therefore, we can concisely conclude that in the incarnation Christ: 1) was 100% God & 100% man (the GodMan) 2) retained all of His divine attributes 3) did not resign or in any way give up His deity in the incarnation 4) was truly God – meaning everything that can be predicted of God the Father can be predicted of Christ the Son. 5) throughout the entire course of His life in the flesh here upon earth retained fully and completely the divine nature, the complex of attributes essential to His being the second Person of the eternal Trinity. Note: Additional benefits of knowing the essential doctrines of the Christian faith are as follows: 1. The essentials teach us about the attributes & character of the Lord. The more we know about Him, the more we will love Him. How can we truly love God, if we don’t know anything about Him 2. The essentials form a protective shield around us. This shield: a. Keeps us within the pale of orthodoxy b. Keeps us from heretical teaching c. Keeps us from spinning our wheels outside of the essential doctrines In the case when we are not certain what a particular scripture means, the essentials helps us rule out what a scripture does not mean.

Now – let us look at the question at hand. Did Jesus literally become a sin and a curse for us? In answer to this question we will establish the following: 1.  Jesus could never be literally sin but is unequivocally our sin bearer.  

2.  Jesus could never literally be a curse but in some sense bore the effects

         of God’s judgment (curse) against sin that was due us

Now let us get into details:                                                                                                A. One of Jesus’ divine attributes is that He is Infinite, Eternal, and

        Unchangeable in His Holiness.  If Jesus literally became sin, He would

         cease being Holy and thus cease being God.                                                           B. Let us break down how the word sin is used in the Bible

1. II Corinthians 5:21 states “He made the One who did not know sin to                   be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in

            Him”.  In this verse the word “sin” is used as an abstract  noun.  An                     abstract noun is a type of noun that refers to something with which a

           a person cannot physically interact.  If a noun is abstract, it describes

            something you cannot see, hear, touch, taste, or smell.  Since sin is an

            an abstract noun, commentators have said that the expression “to be                 sin” must be a metonym.                                                                                               2. A metonym is a change of one noun for another related noun                               and is often used in scripture. For example: a) Proverbs 10:20, “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver.”                               In this verse, tongue is used in place of words or speech.  b) Matthew 6:21, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  In this verse, heart is used in place of thoughts and affections.                     c)  Mark 16:15 (KJV), “Preach the gospel to every creature.”  In this verse, creature is used in place of man.Important:  In the verse we are looking at, sin is used in place of sin bearer.                               3. Another example of a metonym used in Scripture, is Matthew 26.52 where Jesus comments that “those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword”.  It is clear that Jesus is not making a dogmatic assertion concerning how an individual who “takes up the sword” shall specifically die, but simply stating a general truth.  Thus, the phrase “perish by the sword” is one example of a metonym.

      4. E.W. Bullinger, 1898 in his “Figures of Speech used in the Bible” states the following: Sin is put for the offering of sin                                                                                        a.  Gen. IV.7. – “Sin (i.e., a sin offering) lieth at the door.” See Ex. 30:10; Lev. 4:3 & 6:25;                                                                                                        b.  Ex. 34:14. – “It is sin”: (i.e., an offering which atones for sin.                              c.  Hos 4:8 –“They eat up the sin. (i.e., the sin-offering) of my people.”                           d.  II Cor. V. 21.-“He hath made him to be sin (i.e., a sin-offering)                                 for us.”  See Isa. 53:10; Eph. 5:2                                                                                    e.  In Luke 16:29, the text says: “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them.” In reality, they did not have “Moses” or the “prophets,” but they did have their writings. The name Moses is a metonymy that stood for his writings, since he was the cause of the writings. 5. T.J. Crawford, in his excellent work “The Doctrine of Holy Scripture Respecting the Atonement”, offers important insight into the metonymical expression in II Corinthians 5:21.   He states that our common translation, “to be a sin offering”, is to be preferred over rendering the phrase “to be sin”.  There can be no doubt that the expression is metonymical, since it is impossible that Christ, or any person, could be literally made “SIN.”                                                                                      The abstract word “sin” must be held here for some concrete                               word, and there is no concrete word that we can think of as                                 denoted by it, except either “a sinner,” or “one who bears or                                 suffers for sin.”  Now, that Christ “was made a sinner for us” is                             inconsistent, not only with the testimony which the Scriptures                             elsewhere bear to His immaculate holiness, but with the                                       express statement in the adjoining clause, that “He knew no                                 sin.”                                                                                                                                         Accordingly, we are shut up to the other interpretation, that Christ was “made sin for us” in the sense of being divinely appointed to bear the burden or to suffer the penal consequences of our transgressions.  We see that by taking into account the language and context, the meaning of the expression “made to be sin for us” is that Christ suffered the legal consequences — the penalty — for our sin.  Although Jesus identified with sinners, it is unjustifiable to read the passage to imply that He took on our sin nature. 6. The author Philip Hughes concurs with this in his commentary on Second Corinthians where he writes: “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed, . . . and Jehovah hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6) — that is the meaning of Christ’s having been made sin for us.                                                                                                       Not for one moment does He cease to be righteous, else the radical exchange envisaged by the Apostle here . . . would be no more than a fiction or a hallucination.  And, this understanding is the consistent   testimony of Scripture: Christ was “made to be sin” in the sense that He bore the penalty of our sins.  Thus when the Lord, through Isaiah, speaks of the Messiah saying, “. . . the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities . . .” (Isaiah 53:11), the meaning is clear. This prophetic passage affirms that Christ would suffer the penalty of consequence of the sins of others.  Earlier in this Messianic section,

          there are other clear indications that the suffering Servant of the Lord

        would suffer on behalf of sinners, be subject to the penal consequences           of their sins and, in that way, “bear” their sins (Isaiah 53:5,8). This is the consistent testimony of the Scriptures; Christ took the place of sinners and, in their stead, bore the punishment their sins required (e.g., Romans 4:25; I Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 1:4;     I Peter 2:24).

7. Galatians 3:13 states that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us — for it is written,  "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree . . .”. After the careful look we took at Paul’s declaration in II Corinthians 5:21 (“. . . made to be sin for us . . .”) the parallel with this passage is evident.  Christ “became a curse” for us in the sense that He bore the effects of God’s judgment (curse) against sin that was due us.  

It is clear from the testimony of Scripture that Christ, in and of Himself, was not accursed by God.  We must not forget John 10:17 when the Lord says, “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life . . .” Although He suffered the penalty and “curse” due our sin, Jesus Himself was always the “beloved Son.”  Never was Christ more the Son in whom the Father was well pleased than when He was willing to accept the                          utmost consequence for the sins of men.                            This verse of scripture contains a strong metonymical expression, signifying that Christ was “made the bearer of a curse for us,” or that He was subjected to the endurance of that condemnation by which God expresses His righteous displeasure against sin, when uttering these words, as quoted in the context, “Cursed is every one who continueth not in all                    things which are not written in the book of law to do them.”

In conclusion:

1.  Jesus could never be literally sin but is unequivocally our sin bearer.

2.  Jesus could never literally be a curse but in some sense bore the effects of God’s judgment (curse) against sin that was due us.

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