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God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, NET)

I'm interested in an overview of the understanding of the early Christians relating to the fact that Christ was made to be sin.

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Church fathers from the first four centuries understand Christ being called "sin" to mean that Christ bore our sin.

Eusebius (260–340), for example, connects this verse with the idea that Christ, "descending into our state of slavery[,] took away our sins."1

Cyril of Alexandria (376–444) emphasizes that Christ himself did not sin:

We do not say that Christ became a sinner, far from it, but being just, or rather in actuality justice, for he did not know sin, the Father made him a victim for the sins of the world.2

Ambrose (340–397) makes a connection with Galatians 3:13:

So, was the Lord turned into sin? Not so, but since he assumed our sins, he is called sin. For the Lord is also called an accursed thing, not because the Lord was turned into an accursed thing but because he himself took on our curse.3

Gregory of Nazianzus (329–390) also sees John 1:1 as a related passage:

The passage "The Word was made flesh" seems to me to be equivalent to that in which it is said that he was made sin or a curse for us; not that the Lord was transformed into either of these—how could he be? But because by taking them upon him he took away our sins and bore our iniquities.4


  1. Proof of the Gospel, 4.17
  2. Letter 41 in Fathers of the Church, v. 76
  3. The Sacrament of the Incarnation of Our Lord, 6.60, in Fathers of the Church, v. 44
  4. Letters on the Apollinarian Controversy, To Cledonius (101)

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