"For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." So reads the King James translation of 2 Corinthians 5:21. Mr. Wesley, Mr. Fletcher, and Dr. Adam Clarke all take strong exception to this translation. The following is to them a much preferred rendering of this verse: "He made him who knew no sin (who was innocent), a sin-offering for us...." The following comments of Dr. Adam Clarke defend well this latter translation while pointing out the dangerous teachings that have resulted from the former.
The [Greek] word harmartia occurs here twice: in the first place it means sin, i. e. transgression and guilt; and of Christ it is said, He knew no sin, i. e. was innocent; for not to know sin is the same as to be conscious of innocence; so,... to be conscious of nothing against one's self, is the same as... to be unimpeachable.
In the second place, it signifies a sin-offering, or sacrifice for sin, and answers to the chattaah and chattath of the Hebrew text; which signifies both sinand sin-offering in a great variety of places in the Pentateuch. The Septuagint translate the Hebrew word by harmartia in ninety-four places in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, where a sin-offering is meant; and where our [King James] version translates the word not sin, but an offering for sin. Had our [King James] translators attended to their own method of translating the word in other places where it means the same as here, they would not have given this false view of a passage which has been made the foundation of a most blasphemous doctrine; viz. that our sins were imputed to Christ, and that he was a proper object of the indignation of Divine justice, because he was blackened with imputed sin; and some have proceeded so far in this blasphemous career as to say, that Christ may be considered as the greatest of sinners, because all the sins of mankind, or of the elect, as they say, were imputed to him, and reckoned as his own. One of these writers translates the passage thus: God accounted christ the greatest of sinners, that we might be supremely righteous. Thus they have confounded sin with the punishment due to sin. Christ suffered in our stead; died for us; bore our sins (the punishment due to them), in his own body upon the tree, for the Lord laid upon him the iniquities of us all; that is, the punishment due to them; explained by making his soul - - his life, an offering for sin; and healing us by his stripes.
In order that he might make plain that sin-offering, not sin, is the meaning of the word in this verse, Dr. Clarke lists a total of one hundred and eight places from the Septuagint and the King James Version where the word occurs; and where it answers to the Hebrew words already quoted; and where the translators of the King James Version have rendered correctly what they render here incorrectly.