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 Corinthians 5:21).
Paul’s reference to Christ being made sin for us is derived from the Old Testament motif of the sin offerings. The sin offerings were offered to make atonement for sin.
Throughout the Old Testament the word atonement was used to convey the idea of reconciliation, sanctification, consecration, and forgiveness. This is the context which surrounds Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 5.
Literally, Paul is telling us that Christ was made to be the offering for our sins, and that is how we are reconciled to God. Christ was made to be our sin offering not our literal sin.
Throughout the Old Testament the words sin and sin offering are translated from the same Hebrew word “chattath”. One writer pointed out that chattath is translated as sin offering 118 times, and translated as sin 168 times.
In Hebrews 10:6, the writer of Hebrews speaks of the sacrifices for sin. The words “sacrifices for” have been added by the translators of the KJV for clarity. Literally, Hebrews 10:6 says: In burnt offerings and sin thou hast had no pleasure.
However, we know that the author is not referring to sin but to the sin offerings instead. We know this because of the context and we also know this because Hebrews 10:6 is a quote from Psalm 40:6 which says the following:
Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.
The Greek word “hamartia” which is used in Hebrews 10:6 in reference to the sin offering, is also used in 2 Corinthians 5:21 in reference to Christ being made sin for us.
It should also be of importance to us that the apostle Paul was a Jew who had come to know Christ. The things which Paul taught about Jesus were rooted in his scholarly understanding of the scriptures. Paul most assuredly would have thought through the scriptures as a Jewish scholar and would have understood Christ’s death and resurrection in view of the scriptures. Paul tells the Corinthians the following:
I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures… ~ 1 Corinthians 15:3-4
Paul certainly understood Christ’s death in view of the Old Testament scriptures and did not have to teach contrary to the Old Testament’s motif when he speaks of Christ dying for our sins. Paul spoke of Christ’s death in view of the precedent set forth within the sacrificial system because those sacrifices foreshadowed Christ.
Jesus is our Redeemer, and he died for our sins as one who was pure and holy. There is no precedent in scripture which would indicate that the offerings for sin were made sinful with the sins of the people, which is how 2 Corinthians has been interpreted by some. Instead they were to be offered as unblemished sacrifices which were holy to the Lord.
Leviticus 6:25 says, “Speak unto Aaron and to his sons, saying, this is the law of the sin offering: In the place where the burnt offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the LORD: it is most holy.”
Leviticus 22:21 tells us that the sacrifices which foreshadowed Christ had to be perfect in order to be accepted.
Christ was perfect. He was without sin. He knew no sin;. There was no spot or blemish in him. He died for our sins as a perfect and holy sacrifice, accepted by God.
Jesus Christ died as an unblemished lamb whose blood is pure and holy. The scripture says we were not redeemed with corruptible things, instead we were redeemed with the precious blood of Jesus Christ as from a lamb without spot or blemish (See 1 Peter 1:18-19). The teaching of the Bible is that our redemption is by virtue of the blood of Jesus.
Jesus is, was, and always will be holy, pure, and just. The apostle Peter declared that he is the holy and just One which the people rejected (Acts 3:14). Peter also declared that he is the prince of life and that the grave could not hold him because God would not allow his holy one to see corruption. (See Acts 2:24, 27; 3:15)
The Bible tells us that we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:5-10). It was in his body that he bore our sins (1 Peter 2:24) and it was his flesh that he gave for the life of the world (John 6:51) so that he could redeem us by his precious blood. ~ Ephesians 1:7