What's the meaning of 'he made him to be sin who did not know sin'?


Dear friends on the way,

 A very intelligent Catholic priest has stated that a verse of 2 Corinthians is "wrong".  2Cor 5:21 reads    "For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him."

 The verse does seem to be literal, yet literally impossible.  Christ is God and cannot abide with much less be sin, the rejection of God.  On the other hand, the Bible is the inerrant truth, the Word of God.

 Have you any explanation for the literal tone of this verse?  Even better, please cite on this thread any authoritive teaching on this verse from one of the Doctors of the Church or some other saint, Generally accepted contemporary commentary may not mean much to my friend the priest.  Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.

 Though I don't think this is a stumbling block for anyone around me, it seems good to shed light on this controversy.  This reading was used for Ash Wednesday.  If this small controversy seems counter-productive, please don't judge anyone because of it, okay?    Think about who's forum you are using and what He said about meekness.  Again, thanks.

Trusting in Christ,


To me, this is explaining why God allowed Satan tempt Adam and Eve, leading to mankinds fall…We did not know sin until that first bite of the apple, they gave in to temptation.

After this, there was 2 choices, God or the enemy, there was suddenly temptation and sin in the world. This also shows us exercising our free will, to make that choice, between God and the enemy, remember God wants people to choose him WILLINGLY, in order for that choice to be there for us, there had to be an ‘alternative’.

We must be able to show God we are choosing HIM, (even though there are worldly pleasures and sin abound everyday), on our own, and not just because there is no other choice but him.


Thanks Mikekle.


Here are some commentaries:


As I see it, God let our sin be on Christ, like a scapegoat. The scapegoat’s nature doesn’t change by becoming the scapegoat - it doesn’t start sinning. But the sin is accounted to the scapegoat, rather than to the sinner, and through it, the sinner has atonement.


Yes. The ‘scapegoat’ of the OT is a surely precussor for Christ standing in for all sin. It’s a helpful thought that the nature and behavior of the appointed ‘scapegoat’ does not change when it is chosen to be sacrificed for God’s wayward people. Thanks much.


He willingly bore sin against Him AND it’s consequence, which was death and it’s torment. God’s sustaining life turned from Him. Because He said, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

This was quoting Scripture, and because His Father applied our transgression to Him, in His hour.


Thank you.


RSV - Catholic Edition

2 Corinthians 5

5.21*made him to be sin:*i.e., “sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom 8.3).

I think this passage helps understand what was happening. It is what Jesus quoted at an intense moment!

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why so far from my call for help,
from my cries of anguish?

3My God, I call by day, but you do not answer;
by night, but I have no relief.b

4Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the glory of Israel.

5In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted and you rescued them.

6To you they cried out and they escaped;
In you they trusted and were not disappointed.

7But I am a worm, not a man,
scorned by men, despised by the people.e

8All who see me mock me;
they curl their lips and jeer;
they shake their heads at me:

9“He relied on the LORD—let him deliver him;
if he loves him, let him rescue him.”

10For you drew me forth from the womb,
made me safe at my mother’s breasts.

11Upon you I was thrust from the womb;
since my mother bore me you are my God.

12Do not stay far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is no one to help.

13Many bulls surround me;
fierce bulls of Bashan encircle me.

14They open their mouths against me,
lions that rend and roar.

15Like water my life drains away;
all my bones are disjointed.
My heart has become like wax,
it melts away within me.

16As dry as a potsherd is my throat;
my tongue cleaves to my palate;
you lay me in the dust of death.

17Dogs surround me;
a pack of evildoers closes in on me.
They have pierced my hands and my feet

18I can count all my bones.
They stare at me and gloat;

19they divide my garments among them;
for my clothing they cast lots.l

20But you, LORD, do not stay far off;
my strength, come quickly to help me.

21Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life from the grip of the dog.

22Save me from the lion’s mouth,
my poor life from the horns of wild bulls.

23Then I will proclaim your name to my brethren;
in the assembly I will praise you:

24“You who fear the LORD, give praise!
All descendants of Jacob, give honor;
show reverence, all descendants of Israel!

25For he has not spurned or disdained
the misery of this poor wretch,
Did not turn away from me,
but heard me when I cried out.

26I will offer praise in the great assembly;
my vows I will fulfill before those who fear him.

27The poor will eat their fill;
those who seek the LORD*will offer praise.
May your hearts enjoy life forever!”

28All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the LORD;
All the families of nations
will bow low before him.p

29For kingship belongs to the LORD,
the ruler over the nations.

30*All who sleep in the earth
will bow low before God;
All who have gone down into the dust
will kneel in homage.

31And I will live for the LORD;
my descendants will serve you.

32The generation to come will be told of the Lord,
that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn
the deliverance you have brought.


Here is St. John Chrysostom’s homily on that verse:


Here is what the Ignatius Study Bible says:

5:21 made him to be sin: Jesus was not made a sinner or personally counted guilty of sin on the Cross. Rather, he bore the curse of death that mankind incurred because of sin (Gal 3:13; 1 Pet 2:22–24), even though he himself knew no sin, i.e., committed no sin (Jn 8:46; 1 Jn 3:5) (CCC 602–3). ● Paul adopts the idiom of the Greek OT, where “sin” is a shorthand expression for a Levitical “sin offering” (Lev 4:21; 5:12; 6:25). Isaiah uses this same language for the suffering Messiah, who was expected to make himself an “offering for sin” (Is 53:10). the righteousness of God: An important expression in Paul’s writings. It can refer (1) to God’s own righteousness that is manifest to the world when he is faithful to his covenants (Rom 3:25–26) and (2) to the gift of righteousness that God imparts to the baptized (Phil 3:9). See note on Rom 1:17.

—The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: The New Testament (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 320.

Here is what the Navarre Bible Commentary says:

5:21. “He made him to be sin”: obviously St Paul does not mean that Christ was guilty of sin; he does not say “to be a sinner” but “to be sin”. “Christ had no sin,” St Augustine says; “he bore sins, but he did not commit them” (Enarrationes in Psalmos, 68, 1, 10).

According to the rite of atoning sacrifices (cf. Lev 4:24; 5:9; Num 19:9; Mic 6:7; Ps 40:7) the word “sin”, corresponding to the Hebrew ašam, refers to the actual act of sacrifice or to the victim being offered. Therefore, this phrase means “he made him a victim for sin” or “a sacrifice for sin”. It should be remembered that in the Old Testament nothing unclean or blemished could be offered to God; the offering of an unblemished animal obtained God’s pardon for the transgression which one wanted to expiate. Since Jesus was the most perfect of victims offered for us, he made full atonement for all sins. In the Letter to the Hebrews, when comparing Christ’s sacrifice with that of the priests of the Old Testament, it is expressly stated that “every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb 10:11–14).

This concentrated sentence also echoes the Isaiah prophecy about the sacrifice of the Servant of Yahweh; Christ, the head of the human race, makes men sharers in the grace and glory he achieved through his sufferings: “upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed” (Is 53:5).

Jesus Christ, burdened with our sins and offering himself on the cross as a sacrifice for them, brought about the Redemption: the Redemption is the supreme example both of God’s justice—which requires atonement befitting the offence—and of his mercy, that mercy which makes him love the world so much that “he gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16). “In the Passion and Death of Christ—in the fact that the Father did not spare his own Son, but ‘for our sake made him sin’—absolute justice is expressed, for Christ undergoes the Passion and Cross because of the sins of humanity. This constitutes even a ‘superabundance’ of justice, for the sins of man are ‘compensated for’ by the sacrifice of the Man-God. Nevertheless, this justice, which is properly justice ‘to God’s measure’, springs completely from love, from the love of the Father and of the Son, and completely bears fruit in love. Precisely for this reason the divine justice revealed in the Cross of Christ is ‘to God’s measure’, because it springs from love and is accomplished in love, producing fruits of salvation. The divine dimension of redemption is put into effect not only by bringing justice to bear upon sin, but also by restoring to love that creative power in man thanks to which he once more has access to the fullness of life and holiness that come from God. In this way, redemption involves the revelation of mercy in its fullness” (John Paul II, Dives in misericordia, 7).

—Saint Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians, The Navarre Bible (Dublin; New York: Four Courts Press; Scepter Publishers, 2005), 155–156.


Three of the Doctors of the Church are St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, and St. John Damascene. (The complete list is here.) I have already found the comments of those three on this passage, and I’m looking for more.

St. John Chrysostom’s comments were already linked to by another poster.

St. Augustine comments on this passage in Chapter 41 of this document: newadvent.org/fathers/1302.htm

Among the things he says is this: “[On] account of the likeness of sinful flesh in which He came, He was called sin, that He might be sacrificed to wash away sin. For, under the Old Covenant, sacrifices for sin were called sins.”

And: “[God] has made [Jesus] to be sin for us, that is, [He] has made Him a sacrifice for our sins, by which we might be reconciled to God.”

St. John Damascene comments on this passage in this document: newadvent.org/fathers/33044.htm

He says: “[Some Scriptures] are said in the manner of association and relation, as, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ Matthew 27:46. and, ‘He has made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin.’ 2 Corinthians 5:21. And ‘being made a curse for us,’ Galatians 3:13. Also, ‘Then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him.’ 1 Corinthians 15:28. For neither as God nor as man was He ever forsaken by the Father, nor did He become sin or a curse, nor did He require to be made subject to the Father. For as God He is equal to the Father and not opposed to Him nor subjected to Him; and as God, He was never at any time disobedient to His Begetter to make it necessary for Him to make Him subject. Appropriating, then, our person and ranking Himself with us, He used these words. For we are bound in the fetters of sin and the curse as faithless and disobedient, and therefore forsaken.”


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