Sunday, May 17, 2009


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 (NRSV)
In his commentary on 2 Corinthians, Ralph Martin notes that, "the thought of Christians 'becoming the righteousness of God in him [Christ]' is not paralleled elsewhere in Paul." This and other observations lead him to conclude that Paul has included traditional materials about God's reconciliation into 1Cor 5.18-21.

Verse 21, in particular, may be a creedal statement or hymn fragment, which likely reflects Isaiah 53.10-11, about the Suffering Servant who would be made a sin offering, the Righteous One who would make many righteous by bearing their iniquities.

Further, he observes that the emphasis of 5.21 is not on the justification language, but rather on the simple idea of substitution and exchange. (Martin does say, however, that other aspects of the passage, which may indicate Paul's own hand interpreting and applying the traditional materials, cast a light on v. 21 that mirrors Paul's usage elsewhere.)

Yet another aspect of this passage is the way Paul uses evangelistic language to deal with a pastoral situation in a church. "The call [be reconciled to God] is issued with the Corinthian congregation and its pastoral problems in view, and should primarily be interpreted in that context." Paul uses language normally directed to call people to saving faith in Christ and applies it to believers, to impress upon them the ongoing implications of living as reconciled people in right relationship with God.

So, what we have in 2 Corinthians 5.21 is...
  1. A creedal statement about Christ's substitutionary sacrifice that brings us righteousness,
  2. In a context about being reconciled to God,
  3. Which is addressed to a church, not those who need to come to initial faith in Christ.
More to come...

Comments always welcome!

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