A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Jesus in his love for us, laid himself on the altar.

I am learning Who Jesus is on a personal Christian – not ‘c’hristian – basis. I am still missing the heart connection, trying to get past the non-stop force-feeding details of His suffering for my sake, so I better be grateful!! The sugary-sweet imagery of Easy Believism. Oh, yes. And He loves me and is my Friend. My co-heir. Can you see the dilemma?

— comment by our reader who uses the pseudonym ‘Finding Answers’

I resonate a lot with this. 🙂

In my conversion, which happened in my twenties, I met Jesus…which is to say, God revealed Jesus to me. I knew Jesus loved me, I knew him like a brother, someone who loved me and knew me more than anyone else had (or ever could) know and love me.

But when I started going to church and reading all sorts of Christian literature I underwent what Finding Answers described: force-feeding of all the details of His suffering for my sake, so I’d better be grateful! And all the shoulds. I should do this, I should feel that, I should think like this… and try harder.

It is so hard to see beyond that, so hard to see through it, especially because the ‘c’hurch so habitually replicates what abusers do: it lays blame on the victims of abuse, or it mutualises the blame between abuser and victim. It criticises the victim’s feelings – emotions that are natural consequences of being abused and traumatized. It judges her actions. It tells her she needs to fix her thinking.

Recently I had a breakthrough from all that force feeding. It came about from reading something Ruth Magnusson Davis had said to me. She and I are in email contact and I am absolutely loving her work on the New Matthew Bible and all things related to that. (more on Ruth’s work here and here)

A Christian lady who is admired by many victims abuse for how she is advocating about abuse, said this on twitter: “We follow a Savior who faced Death…who actually became death.”

The idea that Jesus became death sounded ‘off’ to me, so I asked Ruth and Ps Sam Powell whether they thought it was a correct statement. They both agreed it was not correct.

Ruth said:

Yes, I think this is off. He died for us, that’s all.

I wonder if it is related to the Hebraism “Became sin for us.” Tyndale explained in his 1534 New Testament that this meant “became a sin offering.” Augustine confirmed this.

But I hear it mis-taught a lot (understandably), with people saying he actually ‘became sin’. I have decided to update it fully in the NMB to “sin offering” to avoid confusion.

Sam said:

I am not quite sure what is meant be “he became death” but it isn’t quite right. Death is an enemy to be destroyed. The person who wrote that on twitter might have meant that he truly died, but then she should have said that.

The Sin Offering

When I read what Ruth said about “sin offering,” I started digging into what different Bible versions have said.

Here are three renderings of 2 Corinthians 5:21 which use the term “sin offering”.

God made this sinless man be a sin offering on our behalf, so that in union with him we might fully share in God’s righteousness. (CJB)

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. (NLT)

He made him who knew no sin to be a sin-offering for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (MOUNCE)

And here is Romans 8:3 in the NASB. The italics are original:

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.

Think of how the priests and the faithful Israelites in the OT made sin offerings. They laid their hand on the animal to be sacrificed and confessed the sin they were confessing. They then sacrificed the animal on the altar.

Jesus in his love for us, laid himself on the altar. He loves us; he doesn’t demand that we ‘better be grateful’ that he took the rap for us. He gave himself on our behalf because He loves us… and His love is so immense that words cannot express how warm and kind it is.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. (NLT)



  1. Seeing Clearly

    Your title speaks volumes, the simplicity of the gospel. Tears of relief and exhaustion roll down my cheeks as I read. There is enough death in our world, Jesus is life; an eternal expression of the inexhaustible love of God.

  2. Ettie

    The mutualizing of sin is so incredibly hurtful. I think it’s only natural to want to be understood and have your experience validated. When people refuse to see what’s going on it’s frustrating and isolating, and when Christians do it, it rubs salt in the wound. I think it’s wilful blindness – ‘None so blind as will not see.’

  3. Thanks Barbara for all you do!

    When William Tyndale translated the New Testament he was charting new territory. He had to make hundreds of decisions about what “Hebraisms” to keep, and which to make clearer. He explained in a marginal note that “sin” was sometimes used by the Hebrew people to mean “sin offering.” He probably expected or hope that this usage would become part of Biblical idiom, like other Hebraisms did. But it has not, and it has led to a lot of confusion. I hear it mis-taught in many sermons, and it really should be clarified. I will use the full expression “sin offering” or “offering for sin” when we publish the full NMB.

  4. Krikit

    One who truly belongs to Christ doesn’t *have to be told* to be grateful for His willing sacrifce, it is a natural outcome of the indwelling Spirit; to be overwhelmed with the truth that such a death could, should have been mine. So much preaching that goes on seems to understand very little of the Spirit’s work within a heart, mind, and soul once an individual is God’s child, and not just His creation.

  5. Helovesme

    What a wonderful post! So simple but so heart felt.

    I too was a bit puzzled by the “He became death” for us. At first I thought: I’ve never heard it said like that. Maybe there’s some truth in it?

    The Word says He “tasted death” for all of us (Hebrews 2:9). But I too cannot find anything to back up that He “became” death for us.

    He Is LIFE (John 14:6) and that is what He brings! The wages of sin are death, and He bore our sins for us, so that we could live through Him. And have eternal LIFE in Him (1 John 5:12)

    We have a taste of this eternal life now even though we are not in Heaven with Him yet. But knowing Him IS what it means to experience that eternal life (John 17:3).

    Please correct me if I have misread or misused any of these verses.

    Boy I know about the guilt trips that bear down on an abuse victim. It really is all about minimizing and mutilating his or her sufferings. And it sounds so “Christian” to do so!

    No, we don’t scream and holler about a paper cut, but abuse is in another arena when it comes to suffering! You can’t just dumb it down like that, but that is what so often happens.

    But none of those things line up with Christ. He understands suffering, because He knows how it feels. He suffered on that cross in ways we cannot imagine.

    Abuse victims aren’t trying to “compare” their pain to His, or trying to minimize what He did for us, or trying to be ungrateful to Him.

    In fact, I believe it’s the exact opposite. We see what He went through for us, and we are blessed. We have a Savior that understands pain and betrayal and heart break and dealing with fallen man. He empathizes with the broken, because He knows what it is like to be broken on behalf of sin.

    We have a Savior that was NOT condoning abuse when He died for us, He was condemning it! Abuse is sin, and He became a sin offering (although He knew no sin Himself) so that those that were oppressed by abuse need no longer live that way.

    And Jesus, when speaking about Himself in His hometown, made that clear. He had a whole wealth of verses He could have chosen to describe Himself, but He chose Isaiah 61:1, as referenced in Luke 4:18:

    The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

    How are verses like that anything BUT life-giving, hopeful and uplifting! THAT is the Savior we all need!

  6. Charis

    The idea of Christ being our sin offering is something I’ve thought about for a long time. He took my death, my place (each of ours) upon the cross.

    Years ago, Evanescence released a song – a dark one – that I immediately took a liking to because the lyrics brought me right to the foot of the cross; literally to Jesus’ death. I don’t know that they intended the song for that purpose.

    [ACFJ Eds have removed the lyrics of the song as we don’t want to be sued for breaching the songwriter’s copyright]

    Without His death, I would be “too lost to be saved.” Without His death…would it require my own? “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” Lev 17:11

    Like I said, the content of the song is dark. I do believe Christ’s death WAS dark. It is through the darkness we find light and hope and are able to release pain to regain what was lost. I don’t know that the artists meant for the song to be seen from this viewpoint; it’s how it struck me. And reading the post today reminded me of it.

  7. AppleofHisEye

    Thank you for this, Barbara, and for affirming what many of us who have struggled with the organized church feel.

    I was also converted to Christianity in my 20’s. I had been raised a devout Catholic. As the truth of Christ’s finished work on the cross and what it meant for me, personally, sunk into my heart from my mind, I could not get over the simplicity of the TRUTH. I felt like a huge heavy weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It was between me and the Lord, and I felt such love and absolute sincere appreciation for what He had done for me.

    Not long after my conversion, I started attending a fundamentalist bible church, and then a Baptist church, and then another Baptist church. After decades of being under these religious systems, I was carrying all the weights I had before I got saved, plus much more.

    To say the least, this was very confusing. I knew what it had felt like when I had embraced the simple truth of Christ’s finished work on the cross for me, and yet, for many years I looked to people who led me in a way that was definitely some truth mixed with a lot of their system. It’s as if they’re teaching, “What Jesus did was good, but you can do even more by thinking, living, performing, etc this way or that way……”. As if any one of us can improve on what He did for us. But it’s so subtle, and that’s the danger in it.

    The truth is, what He did for us is enough, and salvation is believing that truth, trusting that truth, and resting in that truth.

    The book of Hebrews has been very helpful to me to get my heart straight in this area.

  8. “Sin offering” is correct. In the OT, the word for “sin” also meant the “sin offering” based on the context.
    Paul would have been referring to that. We must hold to the purity of Christ – the lamb without blemish or spot. He was not tainted by sin in anyway, but bore that sin in our place.

    Language is fascinating. Sometimes our English versions come from the Hebrew through the Greek through the Latin and end up strangely.

    I was just studying Matthew 15:4, and the rather strange way the KJV has it – “die the death”. The Hebrew way of doing emphasis was through repetition – the literal quote in the OT is “whosoever curses his father and mother, dying he shall die…” or, as we would say, “He will surely die.”

    The Septuagint translated it woodenly – “dying he shall die” and that is what Jesus quoted, and then our KJV translated it literally, which doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    It’s funny how language works….

    Long ramble – I would translate it “he who was without sin was made a sin offering for us” or some such.

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