Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 118: Jesus Made to Be Sin
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 118: Jesus Made to Be Sin

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Humans have always divided people into sinners and righteous individuals. “To be sin who knew no sin” makes such a distinction impossible. In truth, none of us is either purely a sinner or purely righteous.

Was it God’s intention to make Jesus so that Jesus would be sin? I think God created Jesus to be the one who we humans made into sin. Humans would heap sin upon Jesus, just as humans have heaped sin upon many scapegoats. God was responsible for making Jesus to be sin only insofar as God knew that this would happen, because this is the fate of prophets (see chapter 12). I do not think that God’s ultimate desire was that Jesus would suffer and die; God offered Jesus this tragic destiny because God wanted to end scapegoating violence. Therefore, I regard God as involved in Jesus’ death insofar as God empowered Jesus to fulfill his destiny to expose the scapegoating process through Jesus’ teachings and actions, but God did not orchestrate the crucifixion. When Jesus exposed the scapegoating process, he scandalized both the Jewish and Roman authorities, making his crucifixion inevitable.

Further insight about how to interpret 2 Corinthians 5:21 can be found in Galatians, in which Paul wrote, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (3:13). Here, Christ is a “curse,” similar to the 2 Corinthians 5:21 passage in which Christ was a “sin,” but Galatians 3:13 additionally notes the way that occurred – through the law. Earlier (Galatians 3:10), Paul had written that anyone who does not keep all the law’s prescriptions is cursed. What was Paul’s view of the law?

In Romans, Paul wrote that the law is “holy and just and good” (7:12) and that the law “which promised life proved to be death to me” (7:10). How did Paul resolve this apparent contradiction? He wrote, “Did that which is good [the law], then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin” (7:13-14). In other words, the law is good, but human sinfulness perverts the law and makes the law an excuse for sinfulness. Indeed, Paul’s own sinfulness had prompted him to use the law as an excuse for his zealous persecution of Jesus’ disciples.

Therefore, I think that the cause for Christ becoming “sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21) was the corrupting power of sin (which comes from humankind and not God) on the law. How does Christ becoming sin allow us to “become the righteousness of God”? According to a Girardian view, once Christ revealed the scandal of “sacred” violence – that the violence comes from humans and not from God – we could be become righteous disciples of Christ and servants of God. We could receive the Law as the source of loving relationships that God intended, rather than as a tool for victimizing innocent individuals.

I think this understanding of 2 Corinthians 5:21 provides helpful ways of looking at other passages that have seemed to favor satisfaction atonement theories. For example, 1 Corinthians 15:3 reads, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.” Although Paul does not clarify to which scriptures he refers, many people have assumed that he was thinking about the Levitican sacrificial code. However, one may also see Jesus’ death as having parallels to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. This perspective, which accords with narrative Christus Victor, suggests that humankind’s sinfulness led to Jesus’ death.

Similarly, a narrative Christus Victor framework (see last week's essay) dovetails with a Girardian reading of 1 Peter 3:18: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to god”. The Jews, who had regarded themselves as faithful and righteous, had collectively murdered an innocent individual, which illustrates how humankind has always been drawn to the scandal of scapegoating. This knowledge helps us recognize our propensity to participate in victimizing innocent individuals, encouraging us to reject the attractions of scapegoating violence and drawing us closer to God.

God calls us to establish relationships grounded in love, not collective violence. However, in order to love, we need to be able to forgive. While this can be very difficult, Jesus’ teachings offer us assistance.

Go on to: Part 119: The Nature of Prophets
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