He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2024)

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.

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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.

That we might be made the righteousness of God in him.—Better, that we might become. The “righteousness of God,” as in Romans 3:21-22, expresses not simply the righteousness which He gives, nor that which He requires, though neither of these meanings is excluded, but rather that which belongs to Him as His essential attribute. The thought of St. Paul is that, by our identification with Christ—first ideally and objectively, as far as God’s action is concerned, and then actually and subjectively, by that act of will which he calls faith—we are made sharers in the divine righteousness. So, under like conditions, St. Peter speaks of believers as “made partakers of the divine nature” (2Peter 1:4). In actual experience, of course, this participation is manifested in infinitely varying degrees. St. Paul contemplates it as a single objective fact. The importance of the passage lies in its presenting the truth that the purpose of God in the death of Christ was not only or chiefly that men might escape punishment, but that they might become righteous.

Benson Commentary

2 Corinthians 5:21. For he made him, who knew no sin — A commendation peculiar to Christ; to be sin — Or a sin-offering rather, (as the expression often signifies both in the Old Testament and the New;) for us — Who knew no righteousness, who were inwardly and outwardly nothing but sin, and who must have been consumed by the divine justice, had not this atonement been made for our sins; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him — Might be accounted and constituted righteous by God, or might be invested with that righteousness; 1st, imputed to us; 2d, implanted in us; and, 3d, practised by us; which is, in every sense, the righteousness of God by faith. See note on Romans 10:4; Php 3:9.

Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary

5:16-21 The renewed man acts upon new principles, by new rules, with new ends, and in new company. The believer is created anew; his heart is not merely set right, but a new heart is given him. He is the workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus unto good works. Though the same as a man, he is changed in his character and conduct. These words must and do mean more than an outward reformation. The man who formerly saw no beauty in the Saviour that he should desire him, now loves him above all things. The heart of the unregenerate is filled with enmity against God, and God is justly offended with him. Yet there may be reconciliation. Our offended God has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ. By the inspiration of God, the Scriptures were written, which are the word of reconciliation; showing that peace has been made by the cross, and how we may be interested therein. Though God cannot lose by the quarrel, nor gain by the peace, yet he beseeches sinners to lay aside their enmity, and accept the salvation he offers. Christ knew no sin. He was made Sin; not a sinner, but Sin, a Sin-offering, a Sacrifice for sin. The end and design of all this was, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him, might be justified freely by the grace of God through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. Can any lose, labour, or suffer too much for Him, who gave his beloved Son to be the Sacrifice for their sins, that they might be made the righteousness of God in him?

Barnes' Notes on the Bible

For he hath made him to be sin for us - The Greek here is, 'for him who knew no sin, he hath made sin, or a sin-offering for us.' The design of this very important verse is, to urge the strongest possible reason for being reconciled to God. This is implied in the word (γὰρ gar) "for." Paul might have urged other arguments, and presented other strong considerations. But he chooses to present this fact, that Christ has been made sin for us, as embodying and concentrating all. It is the most affecting of all arguments; it is the one that is likely to prove most effectual. It is not indeed improper to urge on people every other consideration to induce them to be reconciled to God. It is not improper to appeal to them by the conviction of duty; to appeal to their reason and conscience; to remind them of the claims, the power, the goodness, and the fear of the Creator; to remind them of the awful consequences of a continued hostility to God; to persuade them by the hope of heaven, and by the fear of hell 2 Corinthians 5:1 l to become his friends: but, after all, the strongest argument, and that which is most adapted to melt the soul, is the fact that the Son of God has become incarnate for our sins, and has suffered and died in our stead. When all other appeals fail this is effectual; and this is in fact the strong argument by which the mass of those who become Christians are induced to abandon their opposition and to become reconciled to God.

To be sin - The words 'to be' are not in the original. Literally, it is, 'he has made him sin, or a sin-offering' ἁμαρτίαν ἐποίησεν hamartian epoiēsen . But what is meant by this? What is the exact idea which the apostle intended to convey? I answer, it cannot be:

(1) That he was literally sin in the abstract, or sin as such. No one can pretend this. The expression must be, therefore, in some sense, figurative. Nor,

(2) Can it mean that he was a sinner, for it is said in immediate connection that he "knew no sin," and it is everywhere said that he was holy, harmless, undefiled. Nor,

(3) Can it mean that he was, in any proper sense of the word, guilty, for no one is truly guilty who is not personally a transgressor of the Law; and if he was, in any proper sense, guilty, then he deserved to die, and his death could have no more merit than that of any other guilty being; and if he was properly guilty it would make no difference in this respect whether it was by his own fault or by imputation: a guilty being deserves to be punished; and where there is desert of punishment there can be no merit in sufferings.

But all such views as go to make the Holy Redeemer a sinner, or guilty, or deserving of the sufferings which he endured, border on blasphemy, and are abhorrent to the whole strain of the Scriptures. In no form, in no sense possible, is it to be maintained that the Lord Jesus was sinful or guilty. It is a corner stone of the whole system of religion, that in all conceivable senses of the expression he was holy, and pure, and the object of the divine approbation. And every view which fairly leads to the statement that he was in any sense guilty, or which implies that he deserved to die, is "prima facie" a false view, and should be at once abandoned. But,

(4) If the declaration that he was made "sin" (ἁμαρτίαν hamartian) does not mean that he was sin itself, or a sinner, or guilty, then it must mean that he was a sin-offering - an offering or a sacrifice for sin; and this is the interpretation which is now generally adopted by expositors; or it must be taken as an abstract for the concrete, and mean that God treated him as if he were a sinner. The former interpretation, that it means that God made him a sin-offering, is adopted by Whitby, Doddridge, Macknight, Rosenmuller, and others; the latter, that it means that God treated him as a sinner, is adopted by Vorstius, Schoettgen, Robinson (Lexicon), Dr. Bull, and others. There are many passages in the Old Testament where the word "sin" (ἁμαρτία hamartia) is used in the sense of sin-offering, or a sacrifice for sin. Thus, Hosea 4:8, "They eat up the sin of my people;" that is, the sin-offerings; see Ezekiel 43:22, Ezekiel 43:25; Ezekiel 44:29; Ezekiel 45:22-23, Ezekiel 45:25.

See Whitby's note on this verse. But whichever meaning is adopted, whether it means that he was a sacrifice for sin, or that God treated him as if he were a sinner, that is, subjected him to sufferings which, if he had been personally a sinner, would have been a proper expression of his hatred of transgression, ands proper punishment for sin, in either case it means that he made an atonement; that he died for sin; that his death was not merely that of a martyr; but that it was designed by substituted sufferings to make reconciliation between man and God. Locke renders this: probably expressing the true sense, "For God hath made him subject to suffering and death, the punishment and consequence of sin, as if he had been a sinner, though he were guilty of no sin." To me, it seems probable that the sense is, that God treated him as if he had been a sinner; that he subjected him to such pains and woes as would have been a proper punishment if he had been guilty; that while he was, in fact, in all senses perfectly innocent, and while God knew this, yet that in consequence of the voluntary assumption of the place of man which the Lord Jesus took, it pleased the Father to lay on him the deep sorrows which would be the proper expression of his sense of the evil of sin; that he endured so much suffering, as would answer the same great ends in maintaining the truth, and honor, and justice of God, as if the guilty had themselves endured the penalty of the Law. This, I suppose, is what is usually meant when it is said "our sins were imputed to him;" and though this language is not used in the Bible, and though it is liable to great misapprehension and perversion, yet if this is its meaning, there can be no objection to it.

(Certainly Christ's being made sin, is not to be explained of his being made sin in the abstract, nor of his having actually become a sinner; yet it does imply, that sin was charged on Christ, or that it was imputed to him, and that he became answerable for it. Nor can this idea be excluded, even if we admit that "sin-offering" is the proper rendering of ἁμαρτία hamartia in the passage. "That Christ," says an old divine commenting on this place, "was made sin for us, because he was a sacrifice for sin, we confess; but therefore was he a sacrifice for sin because our sins were imputed to him, and punished in him." The doctrine of imputation of sin to Christ is here, by plain enough inference at least. The rendering in our Bibles, however, asserts it in a more direct form. Nor, after all the criticism that has been expended on the text, does there seem any necessity for the abandonment of that rendering, on the part of the advocate of imputation. For first ἁμαρτία hamartia in the Septuagint, and the corresponding אשׁם 'aashaam in the Hebrew, denote both the sin and the sin-offering, the peculiar sacrifice and the crime itself. Second, the antithesis in the passage, so obvious and beautiful, is destroyed by the adoption of "sin-offering." Christ was made sin, we righteousness.

There seems in our author's comment on this place, and also at Romans 5, an attempt to revive the oft-refuted objection against imputation, namely, that it involves something like a transference of moral character, an infusion, rather than an imputation of sin or righteousness. Nothing of this kind is at all implied in the doctrine. Its advocates with one voice disclaim it; and the reader will see the objection answered at length in the supplementary notes at Romans 4 and Romans 5. What then is the value of such arguments or insinuations as these: "All such views as go to make the Holy Redeemer a sinner, or guilty, or deserving of the sufferings he endured, border on blasphemy," etc. Nor is it wiser to affirm that "if Christ was properly guilty, it would make no difference in this respect, whether it was by his own fault or by imputation." What may be meant in this connection by "properly guilty," we know not. But this is certain, that there is an immense difference between Christ's having the guilt of our iniquities charged on him, and having the guilt of his own so charged.

It is admitted in the commentary, that God "treated Christ as if he had been a sinner," and this is alleged as the probable sense of the passage. But this treatment of Christ on the part of God, must have some ground, and where shall we find it, unless in the imputation of sin to him? If the guilt of our iniquities, or which is the same thing, the Law obligation to punishment, be not charged on Christ, how in justice can he be subjected to the punishment? If he had not voluntarily come under such obligation, what claim did law have on him? That the very words "sin imputed to Christ" are not found in scripture, is not a very formidable objection. The words in this text are stronger and better "He was made sin," and says Isaiah, according to the rendering of Dr. Lowth, "The Lord made to meet upon him the iniquities of us all. It was required of him, and he was made answerable." Isa, Isaiah 53:6.)

Who knew no sin - He was not guilty. He was perfectly holy and pure. This idea is thus expressed by Peter 1 Peter 2:22; "who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth;" and in Hebrews 7:26, it is said he was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners." In all respects, and in all conceivable senses, the Lord Jesus was pure and holy. If he had not been, he would not have been qualified to make an atonement. Hence, the sacred writers are everywhere at great pains to keep this idea prominent, for on this depends the whole superstructure of the plan of salvation. The phrase "knew no sin," is an expression of great beauty and dignity. It indicates his entire and perfect purity. He was altogether unacquainted with sin; he was a stranger to transgression; he was conscious of no sin; he committed none. He had a mind and heart perfectly free from pollution, and his whole life was perfectly pure and holy in the sight of God.

That we might be made the righteousness of God - This is a Hebraism, meaning the same as divinely righteous. It means that we are made righteous in the sight of God; that is, that we are accepted as righteous, and treated as righteous by God on account of what the Lord Jesus has done. There is here an evident and beautiful contrast between what is said of Christ, and what is said of us. He was made sin; we are made righteousness; that is, he was treated as if he were a sinner, though he was perfectly holy and pure; we are treated as if we were righteous, though we are defiled and depraved. The idea is, that on account of what the Lord Jesus has endured in our behalf we are treated as if we had ourselves entirely fulfilled the Law of God, and bad never become exposed to its penalty. In the phrase "righteousness of God," there is a reference to the fact that this is his plan of making people righteous, or of justifying them.

They who thus become righteous, or are justified, are justified on his plan, and by a scheme which he has devised. Locke renders this: "that we, in and by him, might be made righteous, by a righteousness imputed to us by God." The idea is, that all our righteousness in the sight of God we receive in and through a Redeemer. All is to be traced to him. This verse contains a beautiful epitome of the whole plan of salvation, and the uniqueness of the Christian scheme. On the one hand, one who was perfectly innocent, by a voluntary substitution, is treated As if he were guilty; that is, is subjected to pains and sorrows which if he were guilty would be a proper punishment for sin: and on the other, they who are guilty and who deserve to be punished, are treated, through his vicarious sufferings, as if they were perfectly innocent; that is, in a manner which would be a proper expression of God's approbation if he had not sinned. The whole plan, therefore, is one of substitution; and without substitution, there can be no salvation. Innocence voluntarily suffers for guilt, and the guilty are thus made pure and holy, and are saved. The greatness of the divine compassion and love is thus shown for the guilty; and on the ground of this it is right and proper for God to call on people to be reconciled to him. It is the strongest argument that can be used. When God has given his only Son to the bitter suffering of death on the cross in order that we may be reconciled, it is the highest possible argument which can be used why we should cease our opposition to him, and become his friends.


Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

21. For—omitted in the oldest manuscripts. The grand reason why they should be reconciled to God, namely, the great atonement in Christ provided by God, is stated without the "for" as being part of the message of reconciliation (2Co 5:19).


sin—not a sin offering, which would destroy the antithesis to "righteousness," and would make "sin" be used in different senses in the same sentence: not a sinful person, which would be untrue, and would require in the antithesis "righteous men," not "righteousness"; but "sin," that is, the representative Sin-bearer (vicariously) of the aggregate sin of all men past, present, and future. The sin of the world is one, therefore the singular, not the plural, is used; though its manifestations are manifold (Joh 1:29). "Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the SIN of the world." Compare "made a curse for us," Ga 3:13.

for us—Greek, "in our behalf." Compare Joh 3:14, Christ being represented by the brazen serpent, the form, but not the substance, of the old serpent. At His death on the cross the sin-bearing for us was consummated.

knew no sin—by personal experience (Joh 8:46) [Alford]. Heb 7:26; 1Pe 2:22; 1Jo 3:5.

might be made—not the same Greek as the previous "made." Rather, "might become."

the righteousness of God—Not merely righteous, but righteousness itself; not merely righteousness, but the righteousness of God, because Christ is God, and what He is we are (1Jo 4:17), and He is "made of God unto us righteousness." As our sin is made over to Him, so His righteousness to us (in His having fulfilled all the righteousness of the law for us all, as our representative, Jer 23:6; 1Co 1:30). The innocent was punished voluntarily as if guilty, that the guilty might be gratuitously rewarded as if innocent (1Pe 2:24). "Such are we in the sight of God the Father, as is the very Son of God himself" [Hooker].

in him—by virtue of our standing in Him, and in union with Him [Alford].

Matthew Poole's Commentary

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin: Christ knew no sin, as he was guilty of no sin; Which of you (saith he, John 8:46) convinceth me of sin? 1 Peter 2:22, He did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: but God made him to be sin for us. He was numbered with the transgressors, Isaiah 53:12. Our sins were reckoned to him; so as though personally he was no sinner, yet by imputation he was, and God dealt with him as such; for he was made a sacrifice for our sins, a sin offering; so answering the type in the law, Leviticus 4:3,25,29 5:6 7:2. That we might be made the righteousness of God in him; that so his righteousness might be imputed to us, and we might be made righteous with such a righteousness as those souls must have whom God will accept. As Christ was not made sin by any sin inherent in him, so neither are we made righteous by any righteousness inherent in us, but by the righteousness of Christ imputed to us; as he was a sinner by the sins of his people reckoned and imputed unto him.

Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

For he hath made him to be sin for us,.... Christ was made of a woman, took flesh of a sinful woman; though the flesh he took of her was not sinful, being sanctified by the Spirit of God, the former of Christ's human nature: however, he appeared "in the likeness of sinful flesh"; being attended with infirmities, the effects of sin, though sinless; and he was traduced by men as a sinner, and treated as such. Moreover, he was made a sacrifice for sin, in order to make expiation and atonement for it; so the Hebrew word signifies both sin and a sin offering; see Psalm 40:6 and so Romans 8:3. But besides all this, he was made sin itself by imputation; the sins of all his people were transferred unto him, laid upon him, and placed to his account; he sustained their persons, and bore their sins; and having them upon him, and being chargeable with, and answerable for them, he was treated by the justice of God as if he had been not only a sinner, but a mass of sin; for to be made sin, is a stronger expression than to be made a sinner: but now that this may appear to be only by imputation, and that none may conclude from hence that he was really and actually a sinner, or in himself so, it is said he was "made sin"; he did not become sin, or a sinner, through any sinful act of his own, but through his Father's act of imputation, to which he agreed; for it was "he" that made him sin: it is not said that men made him sin; not but that they traduced him as a sinner, pretended they knew he was one, and arraigned him at Pilate's bar as such; nor is he said to make himself so, though he readily engaged to be the surety of his people, and voluntarily took upon him their sins, and gave himself an offering for them; but he, his Father, is said to make him sin; it was he that "laid", or "made to meet" on him, the iniquity of us all; it was he that made his soul an offering for sin, and delivered him up into the hands of justice, and to death, and that "for us", in "our" room and stead, to bear the punishment of sin, and make satisfaction and atonement for it; of which he was capable, and for which he was greatly qualified: for he

knew no sin; which cannot be understood or pure absolute ignorance of sin; for this cannot agree with him, neither as God, nor as Mediator; he full well knew the nature of sin, as it is a transgression of God's law; he knows the origin of sin, the corrupt heart of man, and the desperate wickedness of that; he knows the demerit, and the sad consequences of it; he knows, and he takes notice of too, the sins of his own people; and he knows the sins of all wicked men, and will bring them all into judgment, convince of them, and condemn for them: but he knew no sin so as to approve of it, and like it; he hates, abhors, and detests it; he never was conscious of any sin to himself; he never knew anything of this kind by, and in himself; nor did he ever commit any, nor was any ever found in him, by men or devils, though diligently sought for. This is mentioned, partly that we may better understand in what sense he was made sin, or a sinner, which could be only by the imputation of the sins of others, since he had no sin of his own; and partly to show that he was a very fit person to bear and take away the sins of men, to become a sacrifice for them, seeing he was the Lamb of God, without spot and blemish, typified in this, as in other respects, by the sacrifices of the legal dispensation; also to make it appear that he died, and was cut off in a judicial way, not for himself, his own sins, but for the transgressions of his people; and to express the strictness of divine justice in not sparing the Son of God himself, though holy and harmless, when he had the sins of others upon him, and had made himself responsible for them. The end of his being made sin, though he himself had none, was,

that we might be made the righteousness of God in him; not the essential righteousness of God, which can neither be imparted nor imputed; nor any righteousness of God wrought in us; for it is a righteousness "in him", in Christ, and not in ourselves, and therefore must mean the righteousness of Christ; so called, because it is wrought by Christ, who is God over all, the true God, and eternal life; and because it is approved of by God the Father, accepted of by him, for, and on the behalf of his elect, as a justifying one; it is what he bestows on them, and imputes unto them for their justification; it is a righteousness, and it is the only one which justifies in the sight of God. Now to be made the righteousness of God, is to be made righteous in the sight of God, by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. Just as Christ is made sin, or a sinner, by the imputation of the sins of others to him; so they are made righteousness, or righteous persons, through the imputation of his righteousness to them; and in no other way can the one be made sin, or the other righteousness. And this is said to be "in him", in Christ; which shows, that though Christ's righteousness is unto all, and upon all them that believe, it is imputed to them, and put upon them; it is not anything wrought in them; it is not inherent in them. "Surely in the Lord have I righteousness and strength", says the church, Isaiah 45:24 and also, that the way in which we come by this righteousness is by being in Christ; none have it reckoned to them, but who are in him, we are first "of" God "in" Christ, and then he is made unto us righteousness. Secret being in Christ, or union to him from everlasting, is the ground and foundation of our justification, by his righteousness, as open being in Christ at conversion is the evidence of it.

Geneva Study Bible

For he hath made him to be {q} sin for us, who {r} knew no sin; that we might be made the {s} righteousness of God in him.

(q) A sinner, not in himself, but by imputation of the guilt of all our sins to him.

(r) Who was completely void of sin.

(s) Righteous before God, and that with righteousness which is not fundamental in us, but being fundamental in Christ, God imputes it to us through faith.


Meyer's NT Commentary

2 Corinthians 5:21. This is not the other side of the apostolic preaching (one side of it being the previous prayer), for this must logically have preceded the prayer (in opposition to Hofmann); but the inducing motive, belonging to the δεόμεθα κ.τ.λ., for complying with the καταλλ. τῷ θεῷ, by holding forth what has been done on God’s side in order to justify men. This weighty motive emerges without γάρ, and is all the more urgen.τὸν μὴ γνόντα ἁμαρτ.] description of sinlessness (τὸν αὐτοδικαιοσύνην ὄντα, Chrysostom); for sin had not become known experimentally to the moral consciousness of Jesus; it was to Him, because non-existent in Him, a thing unknown from His own experience. This was the necessary postulate for His accomplishing the work of reconciliation.The μή with the participle gives at all events a subjective negation; yet it may be doubtful whether it means the judgment of God (Billroth, Osiander, Hofmann, Winer) or that of the Christian consciousness (so Fritzsche, ad Rom. I. p 279: “quem talem virum mente concipimus, qui sceleris notitiam non habuerit”). The former is to be preferred, because it makes the motive, Which is given in 2 Corinthians 5:21, appear stronger. The sinlessness of Jesus was present to the consciousness of God, when He made Him to be sin.[242] Rückert, quite without ground, gives up any explanation of the force of μή by erroneously remarking that between the article and the participle ΜΉ always appears, never Οὐ. See e.g. from the N. T., Romans 9:25; Galatians 4:27; 1 Peter 2:10; Ephesians 5:4; and from profane authors, Plat. Rep. p. 427 E: τὸ οὐχ εὑρημένον, Plut. de garrul. p. 98, ed. Hutt.: πρὸς τοὺς οὐκ ἀκούοντας, Arist. Eccl. 187: ὁ δʼ οὐ λαβών, Lucian, Charid 14: διηγούμενοι τὰ οὐκ ὄντα, adv, Ind. 5, and many other passage.ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν] for our benefit (more precise explanation: ἕνα ἡμεῖς κ.τ.λ.), is emphatically prefixed as that, in which lies mainly the motive for fulfilling the prayer in 2 Corinthians 5:20; hence also ἩΜΕῖς is afterwards repeated. Regarding ὙΠΈΡ, which no more means instead here than it does in Galatians 3:13 (in opposition to Osiander, Lipsius, Rechtfertigungsl. p. 134, and older commentators), see on Romans 5:6. The thought of substitution is only introduced by what follow.ἁμαρτίαν ἐποίησε] abstractum pro concreto (comp. λῆρος, ὄλεθρος, and the like in the classic writers, Kühner, II. p. 26), denoting more strongly that which God made Him to be (Dissen, ad Pind. pp. 145, 476), and ἐποίησε expresses the setting up of the state, in which Christ was actually exhibited by God as the concretum of ἁμαρτία, as ἉΜΑΡΤΩΛΌς, in being subjected by Him to suffer the punishment of death;[243] comp. κατάρα, Galatians 3:13. Holsten, z. Evang. d. Paul. u. Petr. p. 437, thinks of Christ’s having with His incarnation received also the principle of sin, although He remained without παράβασις. But this is not contained even in Romans 8:3; in the present passage it can only be imported at variance with the words (ἁμ. ἐποίησεν), and the distinction between ὁμαρτία and παράβασις is quite foreign to the passage. Even the view, that the death of Jesus has its significance essentially in the fact that it is a doing away of the definite fleshly quality (Rich. Schmidt, Paulin. Christol. p. 83 ff.), does not fully meet the sacrificial conception of the apostle, which is not to be explained away. For, taking ἁμαρτίαν as sin-offering (אָשָׁם, חַטָּאת), with Augustine, Ambrosiaster, Pelagius, Oecumenius, Erasmus, Vatablus, Cornelius a Lapide, Piscator, Hammond, Wolf, Michaelis, Rosenmüller, Ewald, and others,[244] there is no sure basis laid even in the language of the LXX. (Leviticus 6:25; Leviticus 6:30; Leviticus 5:9; Numbers 8:8); it is at variance with the constant usage of the N. T., and here, moreover, especially at variance with the previous ἁμαρτ.γενώμεθα] aorist (see the critical remarks), without reference to the relation of time. The present of the Recepta would denote that the coming of the ἡμεῖς to be ΔΙΚΑΙΟΣΎΝΗ (to be ΔΊΚΑΙΟΙ) still continues with the progress of the conversions to Christ. Comp. Stallbaum, ad Crit. p. 43 B: “id, quod propositum fuit, nondum perfectum et transactum est, sed adhuc durare cogitatur;” see also Hermann, ad Viger. 850.δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ] i.e. justified by God. See on Romans 1:17. Not thank-offering (Michaelis, Schulz); not an offering just before God, well-pleasing to Him, but as δωρεὰ θεοῦ (Romans 5:17), the opposite of all ἸΔΊΑ ΔΙΚΑΙΟΣΎΝΗ (Romans 10:3). They who withstand that apostolic prayer of 2 Corinthians 5:20 are then those, who Τῇ ΔΙΚΑΙΟΣΎΝῌ ΤΟῦ ΘΕΟῦ ΟὐΧ ὙΠΕΤΆΓΗΣΑΝ, Romans 10:3.ἘΝ ΑὐΤῷ] for in Christ, namely, in His death of reconciliation (Romans 3:25), as causa meritoria, our being made righteous has its originating ground.[242] Comp. Rich. Schmidt, Paulin. Christol. p. 100.[243] It is to be noted, however, that ἁμαρτίαν, just like κατάρα, Galatians 3:13, necessarily includes in itself the notion of guilt; further, that the guilt of which Christ, made to be sin and a curse by God, appears as bearer, was not His own (μὴ γνόντα ἁμαρτίαν), and that hence the guilt of men, who through His death were to be justified by God, was transferred to Him; consequently the justification of men is imputative. This at the same time in opposition to Hofmann, Schriftbew. II. 1, p. 329, according to whom (comp. his explanation at our passage) Paul is held merely to express that God has allowed sin to realize itself in Christ, as befalling Him, while it was not in Him as conduct. Certainly it was not in Him as conduct, but it lay upon Him as the guilt of men to be atoned for through His sacrifice, Romans 3:25; Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 2:24; John 1:29, al.; for which reason His suffering finds itself scripturally regarded not under the point of view of experience befalling Him, evil, or the like, but only under that of guilt-atoning and penal suffering. Comp. 1 John 2:2.[244] This interpretation is preferred by Ritschl in the Jahrb. f. D. Th. 1863, p. 249, for the special reason that, according to the ordinary interpretation, there is an incongruity between the end aimed at (actual righteousness of God) and the means (appearing as a sinner). But this difficulty is obviated by observing that Christ is conceived by the apostle as in reality bearer of the divine κκτάρα, and His death as mors vicaria for the benefit (ὑπέρ) of the sinful men, to be whose ἱλαστήριον He was accordingly made by God a sinner. As the γίνεσθαι δικαιοσύνην θεοῦ took place for men imputatively, so also did the ἁμαρτίαν ἐποίησεν αὐτόν take place for Christ imputatively. In this lies the congruity.

Expositor's Greek Testament

2 Corinthians 5:21. The very purpose of the Atonement was that men should turn from sin.—τὸν μὴ γνόντα ἁμαρτίαν κ.τ.λ.: Him who knew no sin (observe μὴ rather than οὐ, as it is not so much the bare fact of Christ’s sinlessness that is emphasised, as God’s knowledge of this fact, which rendered Christ a possible Mediator) He made to be sin on our behalf. Two points are especially deserving of attention here: (i.) That any man should be sinless (cf. Ecclesiastes 8:5) was an idea quite alien to Jewish thought and belief; and therefore the emphasis given to it by St. Paul, and the absolutely unqualified way in which it is laid down in a letter addressed to a community containing not only friends but foes who would eagerly fasten on any doubtful statement, show that it must have been regarded as axiomatic among Christians at the early date when this Epistle was written. The claim involved in the challenge of Christ, τίς ἐξ ὑμῶν ἐλέγχει με περὶ ἁμαρτίας (John 8:46), had never been disproved, and the Apostolic age held that He was χωρὶς ἁμαρτίαςἀμίαντος, κεχωρισμένος ἀπὸ τῶν ἁμαρτωλῶν (Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:26), and that ἁμαρτία ἐν αὐτῷ οὐκ ἕστιν (1 John 3:5; cf. St. Peter’s application of Isaiah 53:9 at 1 Peter 2:22). That He was a moral Miracle was certainly part of the primitive Gospel, (ii.) The statement ἁμαρτίαν ἐποίησεν is best understood if we recall the Jewish ritual on the Day of Atonement, when the priest was directed to “place” the sins of the people upon the head of the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:21). ἁμαρτία cannot be translated “sin-offering” (as at Leviticus 4:8; Leviticus 4:21; Leviticus 4:24; Leviticus 4:34; Leviticus 5:9-12), for it cannot have two different meanings in the same clause; and further it is contrasted with δικαιοσύνη, it means “sin” in the abstract. The penalties of sin were laid on Christ ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν, “on our behalf,” and thus as the Representative of the world’s sin it becomes possible to predicate of Him the strange expression ἁμαρτίαν ἐποίησεν (ποιέω being used here as at John 5:18; John 8:53; John 10:33). The nearest parallel in the N.T. is γενόμενος ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν κατάρα (Galatians 3:13); cf. also Isaiah 53:6, Romans 8:3, 1 Peter 2:24.—ἵνα ἡμεῖς γενώμεθα κ.τ.λ.: that we might become, sc., as we have become (note the force of the aorist), the righteousness of God in Him (cf. Jeremiah 23:6, 1 Corinthians 1:30, Php 3:9, and reff.). “Such we are in the sight of God the Father, as is the very Son of God Himself. Let it be counted folly or frenzy or fury or whatsoever. It is our wisdom and our comfort; we care for no knowledge in the world but this, that man hath sinned and God hath suffered; that God hath made Himself the sin of men, and that men are made the righteousness of God” (Hooker, Serm., ii., 6).

Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

21. For he hath made him to be sin for us] Literally, He made, i.e. in the Sacrifice on the Cross. The word sin has been variously explained as a sin-offering, a sinner, and so on. But it is best to take the word in its literal acceptation. He made Him to be sin, i.e. appointed Him to be the representative of sin and sinners, treated Him as sin and sinners are treated (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:15). He took on Himself to be the representative of Humanity in its aspect of sinfulness (cf. Romans 8:3; Php 2:7) and to bear the burden of sin in all its completeness. Hence He won the right to represent Humanity in all respects, and hence we are entitled to be regarded as God’s righteousness (which He was) not in ourselves, but in Him as our representative in all things. See also 2 Corinthians 5:14.who knew no sin] Cf. Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5; also John 8:46.that we might be made the righteousness of God in him] We not only are regarded as God’s righteousness, but become so, by virtue of the inward union effected between ourselves and Him by His Spirit, through faith. See 2 Corinthians 5:17 and note. “He did not say righteous, but righteousness, and that the righteousness of God.” Chrysostom. See also Bp Wordsworth’s note. Cf. Romans 1:17; Romans 3:22; Romans 5:19; Romans 10:3; 1 Corinthians 1:30.

Bengel's Gnomen

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.

Pulpit Commentary

Verse 21. - He hath made him to be sin for us; rather, he made; he speaks with definite reference to the cross. The expression is closely analogous to that in Galatians 3:13, where it is said that Christ has been "made a curse for us." He was, as St. Augustine says, "delictorum susceptor, non commissor." He knew no sin; nay, he was the very righteousness, holiness itself (Jeremiah 23:6), and yet, for our benefit, God made him to be "sin" for us, in that he "sent him in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin" (Romans 8:3). 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. The best comment on the pregnant significance of this verse is Romans 1:16, 17, which is developed and explained in so large a section of that great Epistle (see 3:22-25; 4:5-8; 5:19, etc.). In him In his blood is a means of propitiation by which the righteousness of God becomes the righteousness of man (1 Corinthians 1:30), so that man is justified. The truth which St. Paul thus develops and expresses is stated by St. Peter and St. John in a simpler and less theological form (1 Peter 2:22-24; 1 John 3:5). 2 Corinthians 5:21

Vincent's Word Studies


Omit. It is a later addition, in order to soften the abruptness of the following clauses.

Made to be sin (ἁμαρτίαν ἐποίησεν)

Compare a curse, Galatians 3:13. Not a sin-offering, nor a sinner, but the representative of sin. On Him, representatively, fell the collective consequence of sin, in His enduring "the contradiction of sinners against Himself" (Hebrews 12:3), in His agony in the garden, and in His death on the cross.

Who knew no sin (τὸν μὴ γνόντα ἁμαρτίαν)

Alluding to Christ's own consciousness of sinlessness, not to God's estimate of Him. The manner in which this reference is conveyed, it is almost impossible to explain to one unfamiliar with the distinction between the Greek negative particles. The one used here implies the fact of sinlessness as present to the consciousness of the person concerning whom the fact is stated. Compare John 8:46.


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He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2024)
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