Monday, October 17, 2016

A Study on the Two Evangels (Part 5)

The Evangel of the Uncircumcision (Continued) 

Shortly after the creation of the first generation of human beings, it was made clear that death is the God-ordained penalty of sin. In Genesis 2:16-17, God declared the following to Adam: “From every tree of the garden you may eat, yea eat. But from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you must not eat from it; for on the day you eat from it, to die, you shall be dying. In accordance with this stated consequence for Adam’s disobedience, we read that, on the very day that Adam sinned, the death sentence was passed upon him (Gen. 3:19). And as a result of this sentence, both Adam and his wife Eve - and well as all of their future posterity - were banished from the garden of Eden and denied access to the tree of life (vv. 22-24). Humanity was, in other word, excluded from the only means by which we could’ve lived indefinitely on the earth without the inevitability of death. 

From this single episode in mankind’s history, we learn that all mankind was condemned to die because of Adam’s sin. Because of Adam’s sin, every descendant of Adam and Eve comes into existence under the power and “reign” of death. Paul makes this fact clear in Romans 5:12-14: 
“Therefore, even as through one man sin entered into the world, and through sin death, and thus death passed through into all mankind, on which all sinned -- for until law sin was in the world, yet sin is not being taken into account when there is no law; nevertheless death reigns from Adam unto Moses, over those also who do not sin in the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him Who is about to be.”

But it is not only because of Adam’s sin that death “reigns” over mankind. Although Adam’s sin affected the entire human race (which can be understood as demonstrating Adam's representative relationship to the rest of mankind), what we read concerning Adam’s sin and condemnation reveals the consequence of sin for all of his sinning descendants, as well. This is evident from Romans 1:32, where, after listing a number of sins (among which most human beings could find at least one of which they’re guilty of committing), Paul declared that “those committing such things are deserving of death.

Similarly, in Romans 6:22 Paul wrote that the “consummation” of the things that people do as “slaves of sin” is “death”; in the next verse, Paul (personifying sin as if it were a human slave master) adds that “the ration of Sin is death” – i.e., it is the “fixed portion” that Adam’s sinning descendants can expect to receive, as the ultimate consequence of their own sins. Thus, when those who are deserving of death because of their sins actually die, their death is not only because of Adam’s sin. It is because of their own, personal sins as well (which are just as "condemning" as was Adam's sin).

Significantly, the idea of death as being the penalty of our sins is found in the very chapter in which Paul reminded the saints in Corinth of the evangel he’d brought to them. After referring to the miraculous change that both the dead and the living saints in the body of Christ will undergo at the time of the snatching away (1 Cor. 15:50-53), Paul declared, “Now, whenever this corruptible should be putting on incorruption and this mortal should be putting on immortality, then shall come to pass the word which is written, Swallowed up was Death by Victory. Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?” (vv. 54-55)

Paul is quoting from Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14 here. What is of some relevance to this study is the fact that, immediately before the part of Hosea 13:14 quoted by Paul, we find God promising to “ransom” his rebellious people “from the grip of the unseen” (i.e., Hades, the state of death), and to “redeem” them from death. As this particular promise was made to unfaithful Israel, it’s not surprising that Paul wouldn’t quote this part of Hosea 13:14 when writing to those in the body of Christ. Nonetheless, we can conclude that, based on this verse (as well as others),[1] Paul would’ve been familiar with the idea of death as being something from which mankind was in need of being “ransomed” by God.

After quoting from Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14, Paul went on to write: “Now the sting of Death is sin, yet the power of sin is the law. Now thanks be to God, Who is giving us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 56-57). What did Paul mean by, “Now the sting of death is sin?” The word translated “sting” denotes a pointed instrument used to injure and inflict pain (cf. Acts 26:14; Rev. 9:10). Paul was essentially saying that sin is what gives death the power to injure us. Apart from sin, death would have no power over us. Sin is the cause, and death is the effect. It is, in fact, the ultimate consequence of sin that is common to all people.

In 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 Paul wrote, “Now if Christ has not been roused, vain is your faith – you are still in your sins! Consequently those also, who are put to repose in Christ, perished. If we are having an expectation in Christ in this life only, more forlorn than all men are we.” The word translated “perished” in v. 18 here does not simply mean “died,” for those whom Paul had in view were already dead at the time he was writing. Since, in the context, the contrast is between “perishing” and being resurrected (or, more specifically, “vivified”), Paul meant that, if Christ had not been roused, these dead saints would never be given life beyond the power and reach of death (with the implication being that the same state of affairs awaited those to whom he wrote as well - and, of course, all of mankind). Thus, if Christ was not roused from among the dead, it would mean that perpetual death – or being perpetually doomed to die - is the state that awaits all mankind. Christ’s resurrection was, therefore, just as essential to the salvation of mankind from death as was his death for our sins. It is the guarantee that all mankind will ultimately be delivered from the condemnation of death.

Paul’s Evangel Illuminates “Life and Incorruption”

That Paul’s evangel essentially involves the glorious truth that all mankind is to be saved from their sins – and thus ransomed from death, the “sting of sin” - is further confirmed in Paul’s second letter to Timothy: “Christ Jesus…abolishes death, yet illuminates life and incorruption through the evangel of which I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher of the nations” (2 Tim. 1:11). Concerning the tense of the word translated “abolishes” in this verse, A.E. Knoch notes in his commentary, “The abolition of death is put in the indefinite or aorist tense, as He [Christ] has done it in His own case and will do it for all in the future.” Death and “life and incorruption” are, of course, mutually exclusive states of affairs; the latter is the state of affairs that will exist when the former has been abolished.

Since the abolishment of death means “life and incorruption” for all mankind, that which is illuminated through Paul’s evangel is the final destiny that awaits all mankind when death, the last enemy, is abolished. In 1 Cor. 15:20-22, Paul wrote: “Yet now Christ has been roused from among the dead, the Firstfruit of those who are reposing. For since, in fact, through a man came death, through a Man, also, comes the resurrection of the dead. For even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified.When all who are dying in Adam are vivified in Christ, death will be no more. “Life and incorruption” will be universal, characterizing the existence of all mankind. The fact that life and incorruption is said to be “illuminated” through Paul’s evangel tells us that the truth of the salvation of all mankind from death is inherent in Paul’s evangel, and implied by what we read in 1 Cor. 15:3-5 and 1 Tim. 2:6.

That Christ’s death secured the salvation of all humanity from sin and death is further confirmed by what Paul went on to write in Romans 5:18-19: “Consequently, then, as it was through one offense for all mankind for condemnation, thus also it is through one just award for all mankind for life's justifying. For even as, through the disobedience of the one man, the many were constituted sinners, thus also, through the obedience of the One, the many shall be constituted just.”

From these verses it is evident that, by sending Christ to die for our sins as a “correspondent Ransom for all,” God rectified the problem brought about by both Adam’s sin and the sins of his condemned descendants. The “one offense” of which Paul wrote is Adam’s sin, which resulted in all mankind being condemned. The condemnation in view is death (see verses 12-14). The “one just award” is the just ruling, or verdict, of God concerning the “obedience of the One” (the death of Christ for our sins, which was an act of obedience to God). “Life’s justifying” (or “justification of life”) is the outcome secured by Christ’s death for mankind, and is the opposite of the “condemnation” of death that is the result of sin. And all who will enjoy this outcome secured by Christ’s death will, necessarily, be “constituted just” (since they will, at this time, have been saved from their sins and will thus have ceased to be deserving of death).

Moreover, in Romans 4:25, Paul wrote that Christ was “given up because of our offenses, and was roused because of our justifying.” Christ’s resurrection is, therefore, confirmation that the justification of all mankind was secured by Christ when he died. Thus, to believe that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was entombed, and that he has been roused the third day according to the scriptures” is to believe that, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, all mankind will ultimately be justified, or “constituted just.” Does this mean that all mankind have already been justified? No. Only those who are “in Christ” by faith in Paul’s evangel – those in the body of Christ - are justified now, and are free from all condemnation (Rom. 8:1; cf. 8:33-34). But Christ’s death for sins and subsequent resurrection means that the justification of all mankind was secured, and thus must happen. All mankind – the “many” for whom “the One” died - “shall be constituted just” (Rom. 5:19).[2]

Therefore, the meaning of the words “Christ died for our sins” as found in 1 Cor. 15:3 is that Christ died to save all mankind from sin and sin’s penalty, death. Christ’s death for our sins – and his subsequent resurrection - means that all mankind is, ultimately, going to receive the same glorious destiny into which Christ was introduced when God roused him from among the dead: a sinless and indestructible life that is beyond the power of death.

Because Christ was roused by God on the third day after his death, we can have confidence that sin will ultimately be eliminated and death will ultimately be abolished. Paul reveals that death is, in fact, the “last enemy,” and will be abolished by Christ (through the “vivification” of all) just before Christ’s reign ends and he delivers the kingdom to God, so that God may be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:23-28). God is truly the “Savior of all mankind, especially of believers” (1 Tim. 4:9-11), for all mankind will eventually be saved from sin and death. Yet believers will be saved before this time, to enjoy “eonian life” during the eons of Christ’s reign.

The Word of the Conciliation

In 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, we read:

"Yet all is of God, Who conciliates us to Himself through Christ, and is giving us the dispensation of the conciliation, how that God was in Christ, conciliating the world to Himself, not reckoning their offenses to them, and placing in us the word of the conciliation. For Christ, then, are we ambassadors, as of God entreating through us. We are beseeching for Christ's sake, “Be conciliated to God!” For the One not knowing sin, He makes to be a sin offering for our sakes that we may be becoming God's righteousness in Him."

When Paul referred to “the word of the conciliation,” I don’t think he had in mind something distinct from “the word of the cross” referred to in his previous letter to the believers in Corinth. These are simply two different ways of referring to the same evangel. For Paul, justification and conciliation were two ways of referring to a single condition and reality (Rom. 5:6-11). Those who have been justified are no longer under the condemnation that sin brings (Rom. 8:1), and those who have been conciliated to God are those whose offenses are no longer being reckoned to them (2 Cor. 5:19). Thus, in view of what was secured through Christ’s death, Paul could write that God “was in Christ, conciliating the world to himself, not reckoning their offenses to them” (significantly, Paul used the words translated “sin” and “offense” interchangeably throughout Romans 5:12-21, immediately after speaking of the “justification” and “conciliation” that had been secured by Christ’s death, in Romans 5:9-11).

But how can it be said that God was in Christ (past tense) “conciliating the world to himself,” and “not reckoning their offenses to them?” Does this mean that, strictly speaking, all people have already been conciliated to God? No. Again, for Paul, one cannot be “conciliated to God” without it also being the case that one’s offenses are not being reckoned to them by God. But this is only the case for those who are “in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1), and all people do not yet enjoy this status (although they will, at the consummation referred to by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:24-28). 

I believe the problem is resolved when we understand Paul to have been using a figure of speech known as “prolepsis” here. According to this figure of speech, something that is future is spoken of as though it has already taken place (or as if it were already present) in order to emphasize the certainty of its taking place.
[3] At this present time, the world is not conciliated to God (for all mankind has not yet been constituted just). Most people remain under condemnation, and are (as all believers once were) "estranged [from God] and enemies in comprehension, by wicked acts" (Col. 1:21). What was accomplished prospectively through Christ’s death for our sins has not yet been fully realized and applied to all mankind. But it shall be, and that is what makes Paul’s evangel good news for all.

Realizing the Grace of God in Truth

In Colossians 1:5-7, Paul wrote,

“We are thanking the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, always praying concerning you, on hearing of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints, because of the expectation reserved for you in the heavens, which you hear before in the word of truth of the evangel, which, being present with you, according as in the entire world also, is bearing fruit and growing, according as it is among you also, from the day on which you hear and realized the grace of God in truth, according as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow slave, who is a faithful dispenser of Christ for us…”

Notice the above words, “…from the day on which you hear and realized the grace of God in truth…” These words imply that Paul’s evangel makes known God’s grace (Paul even referred to his evangel as “the evangel of the grace of God” in Acts 20:24). After hearing Paul’s evangel, one’s coming to a realization of “the grace of God in truth” is absolutely necessary to one’s being able to believe the message. A failure to realize “the grace of God in truth” when hearing Paul’s evangel is just as much an obstacle to one’s believing it as having never heard the evangel at all.

Notice also what Paul said his readers had heard “before in the word of truth of the evangel”: “the expectation reserved for you in the heavens.” Based on what we read in 1 Cor. 15:42-49, 2 Cor. 5:1-5 and 2 Tim. 1:11, we can infer that this “expectation in the heavens” is simply the “life and incorruption” that we’ll enjoy after we’ve been “vivified in Christ” and clothed with our immortal, incorruptible body. Those who have “realized the grace of God in truth” and come to believe that Christ, by his death and resurrection, secured this expectation for all mankind, will enjoy this expectation before the rest of mankind – i.e., during the coming eons of Christ’s reign. But as believers, we must never forget that this special salvation - this eonian life which all of the saints who believe Paul’s evangel will enjoy prior to the consummation - has its basis in the fact that Christ died for the sins of all mankind, securing our salvation from sin and death. Believers will simply be the first to benefit from what Christ accomplished on behalf of all.

[1] Other examples from the Hebrew Scriptures in which the word translated “ransom” in Hosea 13:14 (padah) refers to the ransoming of a person’s life from dying/death are Leviticus 27:29, 1 Samuel 14:45, Job 5:20, Job 33:28 and Psalm 49:15.

[2] The expression “the many” in Romans 5:19 is being used by Paul to more effectively contrast Adam and Christ with the rest of mankind. Both Adam and Christ are referred to as “the one,” and it was their actions which affected the rest of mankind (“the many”), of whom they acted as representatives.

That “the many” is synonymous with “all mankind” can be seen by comparing verses 15 and 19 with verses 12 and 18. In v. 12, we read that Adam’s sin introduced death into the world, and that death spread to “all mankind.” Then in v. 15 we’re told that “the many died” through Adam’s offense. And in v. 18, we’re told that one trespass (or the trespass of one) led to “condemnation for all mankind.” What is this “condemnation” if not the “death” referred to back in verses 12 and 15, which Paul says “the many” died through the trespass of “the one man,” Adam?

“For if many died through one man’s trespass...” (v. 15)

“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all mankind...” (v. 18)

Adam is “the one” whose act of disobedience negatively affected those whom he represented (“the many”). This category of persons is also referred to as “all mankind” in v. 18. In contrast to Adam, Christ is “the one” whose act of obedience positively affects the same “many” who were negatively affected by Adam’s sin. These are also referred to as “all mankind” in v. 18. 

[3] Other examples of this figure of speech can be found in Matt 18:17; John 14:16-17 (cf. 16:7); John 17:11 (cf. 16:28); John 17:24 (cf. v. 5); Rom 4:17; 2 Cor. 5:1; Eph. 1:22; 1 Thess. 2:16 (cf. 2 Thess. 1:5-9); 2 Tim. 1:10; 2 Tim. 4:6; and Heb. 2:8. In each of these verses, future realities are spoken of as if they had already taken place because of the certainty of their ultimately occurring.

A Study on the Two Evangels (Part 4)

The Evangel of the Uncircumcision 

With the start of the administration given to Paul, there came to be a new category of saints having their own calling and expectation, entirely distinct from that belonging to the “Israel of God.” And with this new expectation came a new evangel by which those who have been chosen are being called to this new expectation: the evangel of the Uncircumcision. Does this mean that those in the body of Christ don’t believe that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (which is the truth constituting the evangel of the Circumcision)? No. This truth simply isn’t the evangel by which those chosen to be in the body of Christ are called to their expectation.    

In 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Paul wrote: “Now, if our evangel is covered, also, it is covered in those who are perishing, in whom the god of this eon blinds the apprehensions of the unbelieving so that the illumination of the evangel of the glory of Christ, Who is the Image of the invisible God, does not irradiate them. For we are not heralding ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, yet ourselves your slaves because of Jesus, for the God Who says that, out of darkness light shall be shining, is He Who shines in our hearts, with a view to the illumination of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

By “our evangel” Paul meant the evangel which he and his co-laborers (such as Barnabas, Apollos, Silvanus, Timothy, etc.) were heralding among the nations. According to Paul, this evangel makes known “the glory of Christ Jesus the Lord” and “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” But was Paul’s evangel concerned primarily with the truth about Jesus’ identity as the Christ, the Son of God? Or is the truth about Jesus’ identity instead presupposed by Paul’s evangel? As we’ll see, the latter is the case: Paul’s evangel takes Jesus’ identity as the Christ for granted, and goes beyond this truth into an even more glorious truth – a truth which concerns what Christ accomplished by his death on the cross, and which is relevant to (and good news for) every human who has ever lived.

In 1 Corinthians 1:17-18, Paul wrote the following to the saints in Corinth, “For Christ does not commission me to be baptizing, but to be bringing the evangel, not in wisdom of word, lest the cross of Christ may be made void. For the word of the cross is stupidity, indeed, to those who are perishing, yet to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

In these verses Paul makes it clear that the “the cross of Christ” (i.e., the death of Christ, which was by crucifixion) was central to the evangel he was heralding among the nations, going so far as to refer to his evangel as “the word of the cross.” Paul went on to write in verses 21-24, “For since, in fact, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom knew not God, God delights, through the stupidity of the heralding, to save those who are believing, since, in fact, Jews signs are requesting, and Greeks wisdom are seeking, yet we are heralding Christ crucified, to Jews, indeed, a snare, yet to the nations stupidity, yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God…” (cf. Rom. 1:16)

Here, again, we find that the evangel which Paul heralded had, as its focus, “Christ crucified.” Paul even went on to say, “And I, coming to you, brethren, came not with superiority of word or of wisdom, announcing to you the testimony of God, for I decide not to perceive anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Did Paul mean by this that Christ’s resurrection was not part of, and essential to, his evangel? No. But it should be clear from these verses that Christ’s death on the cross was no less central to Paul’s evangel than Christ’s resurrection; the former truth is just as intrinsically important as the latter.

According to the belief of some, Christ’s resurrection alone is the “real” good news, and his death was only a part of Paul’s evangel insofar as he couldn’t have been resurrected if he hadn’t died. While it is of course true that Christ couldn’t have been “roused from among the dead” without having died first, the verses in which Christ’s death on the cross are emphasized are simply not consistent with the view that Christ’s death has no significance or meaning apart from his resurrection. I would even go so far as to say that Christ’s resurrection derives its “good news” status from Christ’s death. Christ’s resurrection is good news because of what Christ accomplished by his death.

In this emphasis on Christ’s death we already find a significant contrast between the evangel that Paul heralded among the Uncircumcision, and that which Peter (as well as Paul himself) heralded among the Circumcision. It would be futile to argue that the evangelical messages of Peter (as recorded in the book of Acts) emphasized, or were in any way centered on, Christ’s death on the cross. Instead, it would seem that, for Peter, Christ’s death was relevant to his message only insofar as it concerned Israel, and (in conjunction with the fact of Christ’s resurrection) verified Jesus’ identity as the Christ. The cross of Christ was most certainly not presented by Peter as “good news” for Israel (let alone good news for the nations), or as something for which to be thankful or in which to rejoice; the most appropriate response to the fact of Christ’s death that Peter seemed to expect of the Israelites to whom he heralded his evangel was that of repentance for having crucified their own Messiah.

In contrast with this is what Paul declared in 1 Cor. 15:3-4 as being the evangel he had brought to the saints in Corinth: “…that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was entombed, and that He has been roused the third day according to the scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, thereupon by the twelve.
6 Thereupon He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the majority are remaining hitherto, yet some were put to repose also. Thereupon He was seen by James, thereafter by all the apostles. Yet, last of all, even as if a premature birth, He was seen by me also.

In his article, “The Gospel,” Don Samdahl (of the website helpfully diagrams these verses as follows:

1) First proposition
Christ died for our sins
1a) Scriptural proof
according to the Scriptures
1b) Physical proof
and was buried
2) Second proposition
He arose from the dead
2a) Scriptural proof
according to the Scriptures
2b) Physical proof
and was seen

I am in agreement with Samdahl’s analysis as provided in the above diagram. That Paul’s evangel can be reduced to the propositions that “Christ died for our sins” and that “He has been roused” can be inferred from what Paul wrote elsewhere when articulating the truth of his evangel (see, for example, Romans 10:9-10; 1 Thess. 4:14). Although the scriptural and physical proofs supporting Paul’s evangel are important and deserving of our careful consideration and study, they are secondary in importance to the evangel itself. They do not constitute the message which Paul referred to in Romans 1:16 as “God’s power for salvation to everyone who is believing.”

“Whether I or they”

In 1 Cor. 15:11, Paul wrote, “Then, whether I or they, thus we are heralding and thus you believe.” Some have understood Paul’s words here as evidence that Paul and the twelve apostles heralded the same evangel. According to this view, the truth that Paul had in view as having been heralded by both himself and the rest of the apostles was his evangel in its entirety. However, there is absolutely no evidence that Peter or any of the other twelve apostles ever heralded the death of Christ for the sins of all mankind (which, as we’ll see shortly, is a truth intrinsic to Paul’s evangel).

What then did Paul mean here? It must be kept in mind by the reader that the reason Paul reminded the Corinthian believers of the elements of his evangel in the first place was to defend the truth of Christ’s resurrection (which was part of his overall defense of the truth of the resurrection of mankind, in general). It is for this reason that Paul emphasized Christ’s post-resurrection appearances (vv. 5-8).

Given Paul’s objective in writing this part of his letter, it can be inferred that the truth which Paul was referring to as being heralded by both himself and those who’d seen Christ alive after his resurrection was simply the truth that Christ had been roused from among the dead. That this was, in fact, what Paul had in mind seems to be confirmed by what Paul wrote next, in verse 12: Now if Christ is being heralded that He has been roused from among the dead, how are some among you saying that there is no resurrection of the dead?” It was this truth in particular – and not every element constituting Paul’s evangel – which Paul had in view in v. 11. 

Christ Died for Our Sins

Paul’s evangel begins with the essential fact that “Christ died for our sins.” But what truth was Paul intending to convey by this terminology?

We’ll begin our analysis of this expression with the word “our.” To whom does this word refer? It’s possible that Paul used the word “our” simply because, at the time he was writing, he had in mind himself and the saints in Corinth to whom he wrote. If this is the case, it doesn’t, of course, mean that Paul believed that they were the only ones for whose sins Christ died. The evangel Paul heralded among the nations is most assuredly not the “good news” that Christ died exclusively for the sins of Paul and the relatively small number of saints in Corinth to whom he wrote! Just as Paul’s “me” in Galatians 2:30 shouldn’t be understood as implying that Paul was the only one whom Christ loved and for whom Christ gave himself, so Paul’s “our” in 1 Cor. 15:3 - assuming Paul was referring to himself and the saints in Corinth to whom he wrote - shouldn’t be understood as necessarily excluding others. Thus, even if Paul had in mind himself and the saints in Corinth when he used the word “our,” this need not be understood as meaning that Paul was referring to himself and the saints in Corinth to the exclusion of others. More likely, Paul would’ve understood himself and those to whom he wrote as representative of all those for whose sins Christ died.

Moreover, it is likely that Paul used the expression “Christ died for our sins” (or some other expression that Paul understood as conveying the same idea) whenever he heralded his evangel during the course of his ministry. If that’s the case, then Paul’s “our” here should be understood as embracing everyone to whom Paul heralded (or could’ve heralded) his evangel, whether they believed his evangel or not. This means that Paul’s “our” necessarily included unbelievers (as most of those to whom he wrote undoubtedly were before they heard and believed his evangel).[1] And of course, given that Paul’s evangel is the “evangel of the Uncircumcision,” it should be no surprise that Paul’s “our” embraced those among the nations, rather than people of Jewish background only. The multiethnic, “racewide” scope of Paul’s “our” is further confirmed by the fact that, with regards to heralding his evangel, Paul considered himself a “debtor” to “both Greeks and barbarians, to both wise and foolish” (Rom. 1:14). It is because Christ died for all those belonging to these categories of people that Paul could consider himself obligated to herald his evangel to them.

There are several verses in the Greek scriptures that I think can help us to further determine the identity of those for whose sins Christ died, according to Paul’s evangel. The first verses we’ll be looking at are found in Paul’s first letter to Timothy. In 1 Tim. 1:15, Paul wrote: “Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all welcome, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, foremost of whom am I.” Here we can understand Paul to have had in mind any and all sinners in the world, without any qualification. Thus, if a person can be considered a “sinner,” then it would be reasonable to conclude that Christ came into the world to die for their sins and thus save them. This, of course, would include every human who has ever sinned.

That Paul believed that Christ died for the sins of every human without exception is further evident from what he went on to write a few verses later: “God…wills that all mankind be saved and come into a realization of the truth. For there is one God, and one Mediator of God and mankind, a Man, Christ Jesus, Who is giving Himself a correspondent Ransom for all (the testimony in its own eras), for which I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the nations in knowledge and truth” (1 Tim. 2:4-7). From these verses we can conclude that the sins for which Christ died were the sins of all mankind, and that Paul’s “our” in 1 Cor. 15:3 includes (at least, implicitly) all mankind. Again, it is all mankind that Paul wrote that God wills to save, and on whose behalf Christ became the “Mediator” and gave himself “a correspondent Ransom.”

Significantly, Paul wrote that it was for this truth – i.e., the truth that Christ “is giving Himself a correspondent Ransom for all” – that he was “appointed a herald and an apostle…a teacher of the nations in knowledge and truth.” Since we know that it was for the sake of the evangel that Paul was appointed a herald and an apostle (Acts 20:24; Rom. 1:1; 15:16, 19; 1 Cor. 1:17; Eph. 3:7; 2 Timothy 1:11), we can infer that the fact that Christ “is giving Himself a correspondent Ransom for all” is essential to, and inseparable from, the evangel entrusted to Paul. And since Paul undoubtedly had in view the purpose for which Christ died here, it follows that the expression “[Christ] is giving Himself a correspondent Ransom for all” was understood by Paul as conveying the same basic meaning as the expression “Christ died for our sins.”

Having concluded that Paul’s evangel involves the fact that Christ died for the sins of all mankind, the only question left to answer is this: what did Paul mean by the words “Christ died for our sins?” In this expression, the word translated “for” is the Greek word huper. When used of persons, huper can mean “on behalf of,” or “for the sake of.” However, when used in connection with sins, it means “concerning” or “with regard to.” We can better understand what Paul likely meant by his use of the word huper by looking at other verses in scripture in which huper is used in connection with sins.

In the letter to the Hebrews, there are a number of verses in which we find an example of this usage of huper (see Heb. 5:1, 3; 7:27; 9:7; 10:12). Significantly, in all of these verses the author had in view a “sin offering” – that is, a sacrifice offered to God which had, as its purpose, the “pardon” or “forgiveness” of the sin(s) for which the sacrifice was offered; see, for example, Lev. 4:20, 26, 35 and Lev. 5:6, 10. In these verses, the Hebrew word usually translated “forgiven” or “pardoned” is salach. In the Greek Septuagint (or LXX), salach is translated with the word aphiemi (FROM-LET). Aphiemi is a frequently-used word in the Greek Scriptures and, when connected with sins, conveys the idea of sins being “sent away” from a person so that a person is thereby “released” from them. Aphiemi is also the word from which the word aphesis (FROM-LETTING) is derived. This word is most often translated “pardon” or “forgiveness” (Acts 13:38; 26:18; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14). Like aphiemi, the word aphesis conveys the idea of a person’s sins or offenses being “sent away,” and of God’s no longer reckoning their sins and offenses to them. Consider Paul’s quotation of Psalm 32:1-2 in Romans 4:7-8:

Even as David also is telling of the happiness of the man to whom God is reckoning righteousness apart from acts: Happy they whose lawlessnesses were pardoned and whose sins were covered over! Happy the man to whom the Lord by no means should be reckoning sin!

In this quote we find linked together the idea of (1) people’s lawlessness being “pardoned” and their sins being “covered over,” and of (2) the Lord by no means reckoning sin to a man. The imagery of God’s “covering over” sins occurs again in Psalm 85:2, and conveys the idea of God concealing sins from his sight, and (thus) God’s relating to people as if they hadn’t committed the sins which were “covered over.” We find the same general idea expressed in Psalm 103:11, where we read of God removing sins from those who fear him “as far as the east is from the west” (cf. Micah 7:19). Other imagery that expresses the truth found in the word “pardon” includes that of sins being “blotted out” or “erased” by God, so that he no longer “remembers” them (Psalm 51:1, 9; Isaiah 43:25; 44:22; Jer. 18:23; Neh. 4:5; cf. Acts 3:19; Col. 2:14). All of this imagery expresses the idea of God’s no longer “reckoning” sins and offenses to people, and of his dealing with them as if the sins and offenses had never occurred. And this fact can only mean that those pardoned are released from the penalty, or negative consequences, of which their sins and offenses had made them deserving.

In Heb. 5:1, 3, the sin offering in view is that which was required under the law of Moses, and involved the slaughter of an unblemished animal, such as a young bullock or goat. However, in Heb. 7:27 and 10:11-12, we find that Christ, by offering up himself for sins, became the fulfillment of Israel’s sin offering. Christ’s being a sin-offering for Israel involved (or rather will involve) Israelites being saved from their sins. This is clear from verses such as Matthew 1:21, where we read that Gabriel told Joseph that “Jesus…shall be saving his people from their sins.” But what does it mean for Christ to save a person from their sins?

Sin is a violation of God’s law, and is not the sort of thing that literally continues to exist after it has been committed. And one cannot, of course, be saved from one’s sins in the sense of being prevented from committing the sins that one has already committed. Assuming (as is reasonable) that the “sins” which Gabriel had in view in Matt. 1:21 were not exclusively sins that had not yet been committed but included sins that had already been committed, then the salvation in view must be understood as involving the pardon of sins. This understanding of what salvation from sins means is confirmed by Christ's words in Matt. 25:28, where Christ explained to his disciples that the shedding of his blood "for many" (i.e., for Israel) would be "for the pardon of sins." This being the case, Christ's death for Israel can be understood as having secured a state of affairs in which God will cease to reckon Israel’s sins to them (since, as we’ve seen, this is what pardon necessarily involves).[1]

This salvation from sins could not be fully effected by the sin-offerings made under the law (Heb. 10:11), for these sin-offerings only provided a temporary – and thus incomplete - pardon of sins, and had to be repeated on a regular basis. The primary purpose of the sin-offerings under the law was to point toward that ultimate sacrifice through which the sins committed by Israel would be “eliminated,” and God’s covenant people would be “perfected to a finality,” no longer having “any consciousness of sins” (Heb. 10:1-4, 12-14). The author of Hebrews then goes on to point his Jewish brethren to the time when this elimination of sins will occur for Israel: when the new covenant comes into effect. It is at this time that those constituting the “Israel of God” will finally be “perfected to a finality,” and God will “under no circumstances still be reminded” of their former sins and lawlessness (vv. 15-18). This agrees with what Paul wrote in Romans 11:25-27: For I am not willing for you to be ignorant of this secret, brethren, lest you may be passing for prudent among yourselves, that callousness, in part, on Israel has come, until the complement of the nations may be entering. And thus all Israel shall be saved, according as it is written, Arriving out of Zion shall be the Rescuer. He will be turning away irreverence from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them whenever I should be eliminating their sins.

Christ a Sin Offering for All Mankind

Having looked at what it meant for Christ to be a sin-offering for Israel (albeit in a very cursory fashion), the question that now needs to be asked is this: Was Christ’s being made a sin offering a truth that belongs distinctly and exclusively to Israel? Or is this a truth that pertains to the nations as well? That the latter is the case seems evident from what Paul wrote to those in the body of Christ concerning Christ’s death. Paul not only referred to Christ’s death using words and imagery derived from the sin offering (Rom. 3:24-25; 8:3; Eph. 5:1-2), but explicitly stated that Christ was made a sin offering for our sakes. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, we read, “For the One not knowing sin, [God] makes to be a sin offering for our sakes that we may be becoming God’s righteousness in Him.”

Instead of “sin offering,” many translations have, “he makes him to be sin.” However, even if the Greek word hamartia is translated “sin” here, Paul cannot be understood to mean that Christ literally became sin for our sakes. There is simply no meaningful sense in which this could be literally true. Nor can these words be understood to mean that Christ became a sinner, or sinful, for our sakes. Christ never sinned during his lifetime, and remained sinless when he died on the cross (which was itself an act of obedience to God, Phil. 2:8). Thus, if translated “sin” rather than “sin offering,” the reader would have to understand Paul’s words (1) in a non-literal way, and (2) in a way that does not entail that Christ became a sinner. On the other hand, translating “sin” as “sin offering” in this verse not only makes good sense, but it is consistent with the usage of the word sin in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (where it is frequently used to mean “sin offering”), as well as with what is said elsewhere in the Greek Scriptures concerning the nature of Christ’s sacrifice (e.g., Heb. 7:27; 10:12).[2] 

As we’ve seen, Christ’s dying for Israel as a sin offering entailed the securing of the pardon of Israel’s sins (and the consequent deliverance of Israel from the penalty of her sins). This being the case, it follows that Christ’s death “for our sins” – when these words are understood in the broader context of Paul’s letters to the body of Christ - should be understood to mean that Christ, by his death, secured the pardon of the sins of all humanity. That is, the expression “Christ died for our sins” – when understood in light of the fact that Christ was made a sin offering for all humanity - should be understood as conveying the idea that Christ died to obtain the salvation of every human being who will ever live from the penalty of their sins. But what is the sin-penalty from which mankind will be saved by virtue of Christ's death?

Part Five:

[1] It is, of course, true that all are in unbelief concerning Paul’s evangel before actually hearing and believing it (and in that sense can be considered “unbelievers”). However, there were some who, although called to the expectation of the body of Christ through Paul’s evangel, had previously come to believe the evangel of the Circumcision, and thus could not appropriately be referred to as “unbelievers” (in the broadest sense of the word) when Paul’s evangel was first heralded to them. This was the case for Paul himself, along with most (if not all) of those of Jewish background who co-labored with him after he was severed to God for the work to which he’d been called.

[2] Concerning his preference for the translation “sin-offering” (rather than “sin”) in this verse, Adam Clarke notes the following in his commentary: “[The Greek word translated ‘sin’ in the KJV] answers to the chattaah and chattath of the Hebrew text; which signifies both sin and sin-offering in a great variety of places in the Pentateuch. The Septuagint translates the Hebrew word by ἁμαρτια in ninety-four places in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, where a sin-offering is meant; and where our version translates the word not sin, but an offering for sin.”

Clarke then goes on to reference more than one hundred verses from the Septuagint in which the Greek word for “sin” (hamartia) is used to denote a sin-offering.